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