Give me magic, gadgets, monsters, zombies, everything that seems impossible, and throw in some tough chicks with swords. That's the stuff.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Trip to Hogwarts

When I first learned that Universal Studios in Florida was building a Harry Potter theme park, I wanted to go so bad I could taste it. However, the distance and expense rendered a visit unlikely.

When plans were announced for a Potter land at Universal Studios Hollywood, then I knew I could start planning for a very feasible (and much less expensive) trip. This week, my family hit the road and arrived at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Quick verdict: Loved it. The whole experience made me happy. All of the little details, the rides, the food, everything.

Downside though, there are crowds. So. Many. People. We saw that they sell Front of the Line tickets and scoffed at the price (staring at $199, basically twice the cost of our 1 day ticket). However, after spending much of the day in lines, we came around to the idea that maybe getting those for the people in our group who actually enjoy rides might be worth it.

Now on to some specifics. And pictures, of course.

Forbidden Journey - Best. Ride. In. The. Park.  Combo of 3D movie-ride and animatronics.

The Weasley's Flying Car
The line for this ride starts below the castle, then winds its way through the doors, passed the potions classroom, through herbology, galleries of portraits, and Dumbledore's office.

Baby mandrakes in herbology
 Any Potter fan will adore the details: the walloped remains of the Weasley's flying car, baby mandrakes in pots, the scores for the House Cup. The moving portraits were fantastically done - subtle perfection in execution. The ride was thrilling. Our favorite parts were the Walloping Willow and dragon sequences.

Flight of the Hippogriph - The one outdoor roller coaster in the park. The line winds around Hagrid's house and pumpkin patch. This ride is very quick, a few drops and quick turns, but overall an extremely smooth ride. Not too jarring. Very good starter coaster if you have a young budding enthusiast.

Hosgmeade: There's a combo of shops here (ones that any fan knows are really in Diagon Alley, but whatever. Eventually they will expand). Zonkos was cute, but honestly not enough joke stuff. The Exploding bonbons look fun. It's connected to Honeydukes, which is a glorious candy shop. You can choose from pre-packaged items or fill a box. Dervish and Bangs had Quidditch supplies (I got myself a Hufflepuff Quidditch Captain shirt - H-Puff for life!). At the Owl Post, there are all sorts of owl stuffies, icnluding an awesome Hedwig puppet. Just outside, there was a stand with stationery, journals and postcards, as well as a mailbox so you can mail letters from Hogsmeade. I geeked out here. Bought a couple of postcards, mailed one home to have a souvenir arrive in the mail. It has a Hogsmeade postmark, as well as a Hogwarts castle postage ($14.95 for a sheet of 10 real stamps). We also walked through Gladrags. I didn't even look at the cost of the robes. I was a little afraid of the sticker shock, but they did have gowns from the ball in GOF. Hermione's dress can be seen in the front window (and if you buy an interactive wand from Ollivanders, you can make it levitate).

Review: United States of Japan


Things I want from a summer read: action, fast-pace, action, intriguing world, action,well-rounded characters, and did I mention action?

Set in an alternate history where Japan and the AXIS powers won WWII, Imperial Japan controls the Western half of the former USA, criticism of the Emperor is a death sentence, and the George Wahingtons have been in rebellion since the end of the war, we follow two characters on a hunt for a missing general. 

Captain Beniko Ishimura is a censor, frequently passed over for promotion, but also knows more than anyone thinks he does. A complicated and tragic family history, a lackadaisical manner that belies his real intelligence, Ben is a survivor.

 Agent Akiko Tsukino is a member of the secret police, executing anyone who criticizes the emperor with extreme satisfaction. Unfortunately, she is a part of a government that would rather find a scapegoat than admit to any mistake or embarrassment. 

They are an extremely unlikely duo that does not meld into a buddy cop routine, but is no less fascinating to watch. So much tension all throughout, from external forces of the government, the shadowy criminal underworld, rebels, to Ben and Akiko's own motives and secrets.

Excellent pacing, lots of action. There is a mecha on the cover, and they are a part of the story, but leave any Pacific Rim dream battles aside for now, although the battles we do get left me thrilled.

The world is tech-filled, dangerous, and quite honestly, other than rooting for Ben and (some of the time) Akiko, I didn't really like the idea of a US ruled by either Imperial Japan or the George Washingtons. 

There is a conclusion, no cliffhangers, although much is left open. I'm glad for this. I will be on the lookout for more from Tieryas.

UNITED STATES OF JAPAN  Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Powell's | BAM | Indiebound

[received review copy]

Monday, July 11, 2016

Review: The Fifth Season

Whew - it's been a while. Time to get back into things and share some recent reads, that are also phenomenal summer reads. We'll start with my latest.


Book 1 of the Broken Earth Trilogy.

I don't even know if I am ready to write about this. Probably not. This is one of those books where I want to tell you as little about it as possible because so much of my enjoyment came from peeling back the layers, just immersing myself in this chaotic world that has "ended" more times than the surviving civilization can recall.

So, we start with the latest end of the world (which usually is the beginning of a new one, of course), a land where civilization has been "destroyed" many times over and rebuilt again, survivors (and all the myriad ways, pro and con that they survive), people who have magical control over geology, strange beings that look human but aren't, slavery, injustice, vengeance, conspiracies, and something very big that is missing....

And that's all you get. Even talking about the characters might give something away and I will not do it.

When I first started the book, it took a little while to familiarize myself with all the "players" and the timeline. Then I got to the "Oh shit" moments as I put it all together. Followed by a few more "Damns," "Oh shit," "Oh no!" "NO NO NO" right up to a big exhale and needing to read book 2.

Fantastic read. I'm glad THE OBELISK GATE comes out in August so I don't have too long to wait.

THE FIFTH SEASON ($4.99 for the ebook!) Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Powell's | BAM | Indiebound

Pre-order THE OBELISK GATE Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Powell's | BAM | Indiebound

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Where Have I Been?

Hello, all! It's been awhile. I haven't been doing much of any of my usual postings lately, not here, not on Stellar Four, not anywhere (except for bits on Goodreads, which are barely a scattering of notes). So what's up?

Short version: family health issues, family member with cancer, loads of routine tests for FC, IEP meetings and evaluations for FC, death of loved one (fuck cancer forever), and my brain needed a freaking holiday.


Let's break things down a bit.

Family health issues: aside from the illnesses that tend to strike a household filled with school-age kids, there were a few other issues. I got through my routine dermatologist screening with no new problems (yay!), but then had a painful cyst that took me out of action for awhile. The hubs was hit on the freeway (he's OK, but the car was not). And we got news that my father in law had liver cancer. For while it looked like things were going OK, then suddenly, he was gone.

On a much more positive note, FC began to walk unaided - no walker, no braces, just her own strength and volition and feisty 'tude. I'd always hoped that she would be able to, but seeing her walk, play with other kids, and now attend preschool, it's one of the best things that's ever happened. She also had several tests that went pretty much OK. We're looking at surgery in a year or two, but that wasn't unexpected.

FC: I felt like a hamster in a wheel for much of the late spring/summer when it came to FC. Everything was hurry up and wait. She turned 3 and had to transfer into the school district for services. This meant lots of meetings and evaluations, culminating in an IEP* where I did get what I thought was best for her. Then came a few months of quiet followed by "OH MY GOD YOU NEED TO FILL OUT ALL THESE FORMS RIGHT NOW!!!!" followed by more quiet, then "Hey, you start tomorrow."

The thing is, I've talked to lots of folks who have been through the process. Before it all started, I generously gave myself a year to work through everything. That said, when I was in the middle of it, it didn't take long to get to "I need to have this sorted now!"

She's now in a great program with fantastic teachers, but it's taken awhile to calm myself down, to stop feeling like another shoe's about to drop.

That might be what takes a year, or twenty.

Brain vacation: I gotta be honest, at the end of the day, I was lucky to do a little tweeting. My reading was off, my interest in writing anything more than 140 characters was down to almost nothing.

I just needed a break.

When FC went to preschool, and the other kids were already in school, I DID NOTHING. No extra things off the to-do list, no special projects, NOTHING.

I sat on my ass, ate what I wanted and it was glorious.

I just needed some time with no deadlines to regroup.

I started doing some more things on THE LIST, started exercising more, starting doing archery more (it's calming, I like it, and it brings out my inner Merida), started volunteering (mostly book related), and now I'm easing back into posting again.

I'm sorry if you e-mailed me and got no response. It might very well have been during a time when my life turned to crap and I couldn't deal with anything new.

I'd like to get back into what made me happy for so long - talking about and recommending good reads.

Have anything new I should be reading?

*IEP = Individualized Education Program. Basically a contract between us and the school about accommodations and services for FC.