TV Review: Mandalorian, Season 2

Can you get too much of a good thing? Yes. Yes, you can. While I proudly say that I’m fond of the Star Wars universe, I can also say that there are elements of it that drive me batty. We might get into some of those.

Exactly a year ago I posted my review of the first season of the Mandalorian. Should you need a brief tutorial of the general idea of the series or who the Mandalorian is, go check it out here.

For the rest of you, let’s dive right into season two and all its hits and misses.

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu in Lucasfilm’s THE MANDALORIAN, season two, exclusively on Disney+. © 2020 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

The Story

Mando’s goal remains the same: protect the child (We finally learn his name! It’s Grogu.) and deliver him safely to the Jedi who are hiding somewhere in the universe after their near extermination. This is harder than it sounds as now members of the Imperial Fleet, namely Moff Gideon, wants to harvest his blood to create magical super soldiers. I wish I was making this up. (It really doesn’t help that Moff Gideon is played by the same guys who plays Gus Fring on Breaking Bad – owner of Pollos Hermanos and cold methodical drug lord). Chicken anyone?

This goal is challenged by literally everything. Mando struggles to find the hidden Jedi and is forced to perform task after task to get tiny clues that bring him closer to his goal. This turns the beginning of the season into a monster of the week montage where the point of each episode is to defeat a literal monster. We’ve got a massive sand worm ala Dune, some freaky spiders ala Harry Potter, and a sea monster that kind of eats Grogu’s baby pod at one point. When Mando finally thinks he’s reached his goal, Moff Gideon’s robot warriors steal the child away.

Bad news for Mando. Great news for watchers. Ooooh, the tension! We finally get to the climactic action scenes between Mando and his motley crew of fighters and Moff Gideon’s super army and, well, a BIG THING happens.

I’m told if I give away this big thing a nice man will come and break my thumbs – and I need those for typing.

Meet Bo Katan, another Mandalorian who follows a different set of rules.

My Review

I struggled with season two. All of the cool stuff to set up the story already happened in the first season which left season two adrift in what we writer’s call the “murky middle.” This is where the characters know what they need to do but are missing a critical element and have to wade through plot bunnies to find it. When it’s handled well, the murky middle is a great time for character development, increasing the stakes, and deepening relationships – or challenging them depending on the story.

Mando spends a lot of time and effort trying to find where the Jedi are, the critical piece to the story. During that time there isn’t a significant amount of deepening the characters or raising the stakes in a way that felt meaningful. We do get reunited with old Boba Fett, which is nice. One of the criticisms of season one is they held back on using characters from the already established universe. Season two does make up for that.

When it comes to quality, I’ll say it again – the cinematography is stunning, and the artistry is amazing. These worlds feel real and the characters fit in without feeling puppet-like. On the other hand, the dialogue on season two felt way more clunky than the first season and many of the action scenes felt forced into something that seemed way over the top.

That said, should there be another season – although I can’t imagine how considering how this season ended – I’d probably watch it.

Moff Gideon, the complex but underexplored villain. And, yes, he rocks a dramatic cape.

Recommendations

Mandalorian season two is entertaining with some little depth, but not so much that it would push away those who are just here for the action. It’s got a fair amount of shooting and killing, which for me felt way more than needed, but not any significant blood or gore. I’d consider it fairly family friendly to the same extent that Return of the Jedi is family friendly.

Would I love it to be a little more meaningful? Of course. There are a few tender moments, but in all nothing that resonated as deeply as it could have.

All in all, it’s entertaining and that’s what we came for.

I give Mandalorian, Season 2 3/5 stars for leaning too heavily on the shooty bits and missing a few critical chances to give needed depth.


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Book Review: Muse of Nightmares, Laini Taylor

When you fall in love with a story, it’s always a delight to know there’s a sequel. Muse of Nightmares is the sequel to Strange the Dreamer, a beautifully written fantasy that I gushed about in my review posted a few weeks ago.

There’s also a worry when it comes to sequels. If the first book was intended to be a standalone, then sequels never feel quite like they belong. The story conflicts tend to feel out of place or engineered. This isn’t so with Muse of Nightmares. If anything, my guess is that both books were originally intended to be a single volume, but the story was simply too big and had to be broken into two parts.

And it totally works.

Mind you, because this is a sequel I can’t help but divulge a few details from the end of the first book which gives clues to how it ends. Should you be the type that hates having the ends of books revealed – don’t read this review.

The Story

At the end of Strange the Dreamer, we left the charmingly awkward Lazlo as he makes a life-changing discovery. He is godspawn and has the rare magical gift that allows him to control mesarthium, the indestructible blue metal that makes up the citadel. His love, Sarai, has changed as well. Due to the events at the end of Strange the Dreamer, she is now a ghost held in the world by her sister Minya, a hateful, spiteful woman stuck in the body of a 6-year-old child.

Minya would destroy the world to save herself and the other blue-skinned godspawn and she’s holding Sarai as leverage to force obedience. Should anyone wish to move against her, she’ll release Sarai’s ghost and let her disappear forever.

Lazlo is torn. If he saves Sarai, he allows his world and friends to be destroyed. If he let’s her go, he can prevent untold carnage. It’s an unwinnable situation.

But, there are other forces at work and other questions that need to be answered. The world of the Mesarthim is a mystery at best. These mysteries are slowly exposed as the past and present collide to create not only new problems, but present a new solution.

All the critical elements come together, love and hate, revenge and redemption, salvation and destruction, to create a fulfilling story with a satisfying ending.

My Review

I cannot say this enough, but Laini Taylor’s writing is glorious. Her use of poetic lyrical language is a delight and utterly delicious. More than that, she’s created a complete world with depth and history that’s unlike anything that exists on earth or seen in other fantasy universes. That, in itself, is incredible.

As a writer, I can see the sheer amount of work that’s gone into the development of this world and the characters, cultures, and history that makes it unique. Each element has been given loving attention so that it doesn’t only exist, it comes alive off of the page.

One of the challenges of any sequel that ends the story is tying up all the loose ends of ideas presented in the first book. Strange the Dreamer presents lots of ideas that we are given tantalizing glimpses of, but aren’t fleshed out enough to be well understood. In Muse of Nightmares we dive into those ideas and finally see the truth of Sarai’s past and why she and her siblings were abandoned. Like I said, it’s satisfying to finally see the truth of what had only been hinted at for so long.

So, yes. I love this two book series. Everything about it makes my fantasy loving heart sing.

My Recommendations

While this is a wonderful fantasy, it requires attention to detail and an appreciation for lyrical writing. With this in mind, I don’t recommend this for younger readers and believe it’s best meant for high school age and up (and those they let play). Compared the the first book, there’s less intimacy but more violence and graphic description.

That said, for those of you who like traditional fantasy with a twist, this one should definitely scratch that itch.

I give Muse of Nightmares 5/5 stars for bringing a wonderful ending to a fantastic story.


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2020 Year in Review

Well, my pretties, we’re here at the end. If you’re reading this then you’ve made it this far. Congratulations. This has been a different year for everyone, myself included.

At the beginning of this year, I had some pretty big dreams. I was going to power through editing and publishing the rest of the Shadow Barrier series and had two more books on stand by just waiting for attention. With enough good planning, I was going to get those out this year as well.

And, that didn’t happen.

But, I did get two books out:

In January, I rereleased Stonebearer’s Betrayal, with it’s fabulous new cover. And in June, it’s much awaited sequel – Stonebearer’s Apprentice. The third book in the series, Stonebearer’s Redemption, is a few months from completion. Huzzah.

I don’t think I missed a single week of posting on the blog which resulted in lots of book reviews, movie reviews, and some deep thoughts as I figured out how to live with all the COVID changes. It’s always fun to look back through the work of the year, and this year it’s interesting to note the change in tone of the personal essays as the months of isolation started to take effect.

Anyway, enjoy this end of year list post!

Christmas Movie Review Posts:

Book Reviews of Author Friends

Book Reviews

Non-Fiction Book Review

TV Reviews

Throwback Movie Reviews

Movie Review

Personal Essays

Miscellaneous


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Christmas Movie Review: Arthur Christmas (2011)

It’s been Christmas movie watching time here at my house and we certainly have our favorites. Arthur Christmas is one of those movies that surprises, delights, and is just plain good.

The Story

Arthur is the younger of Santa’s two sons. Because he’s not in line to be the next Santa, he gets pushed around to different North Pole jobs. He’s clumsy, naive, and full of more Christmas spirit than anyone else on Santa’s staff, including the big man himself.

His older brother, Steve, has taken it upon himself to make Santa’s deliveries an efficient and orderly operation. He’s scrapped the old fashioned sleigh in favor of the S-1, a city-sized spaceship with enough high-tech gadgetry to make any nerd cry. At the North Pole, he’s created a mission control center that supports each and every present drop.

When a undelivered present is found after Santa’s delivery run is finished, Steve states that it’s inconsequential. Missing one child out of over 7 billion is no more than a rounding error. She’ll receive a gift equivalent instead sometime during the general window of Christmas.

This is unacceptable to Arthur. No believing child should miss out on their gift from Santa, even if it means extra time and effort on their part. He enlists the help from grandpa Santa who had secretly hidden the old sleigh. Off they go to deliver the girl’s gift only to learn that grandpa Santa doesn’t know how to get there.

Various accidents ensue, grabbing the attention of military survelliance all over the world.

Is Arthur successful? Can’t tell you. That would be a spoiler. You’d better go watch it.

My Review

Like I said before, this is a delightful movie that is great fun for the whole family. There’s a great balance of gorgeous settings, humor aimed at adults, fun characters with realistic problems, and a good message at the end.

Oh, did I mention that it also has one of the most gorgeous film scores for a kid’s Christmas movie? Lots of brass fanfare and sweeping strings – my personal favorites.

Another big plus for the adults is the terrific cast voicing the characters. There’s James McAvoy as Arthur, Hugh Laurie as Steve, Jim Broadbent as Santa, Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Claus, and Bill Nighy as Grand Santa.

Recommendations

Even the youngest kid is going to like this one. There’s plenty of eye candy and silliness to keep young watchers engaged while there’s also enough depth to keep the adults amused. There are some mild inappropriate bits – like when grand Santa talks about putting naughty children back to sleep with a sock full of sand and a dab of whiskey on the lips. There’s also a scene where they are almost attacked by lions and shot at by a Idahoan.

I give Arthur Christmas 5/5 on my Christmas movie list. Good all around.


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Christmas Movie Review: Elf (2003)

‘Tis the season to be a little silly, and Elf is definitely a silly family-friendly movie with plenty of fun for both parents and kids.

Confession time. The first time I watched Elf, I hated it. Everything about a fully grown man acting like a 5-year-old all over New York City made me cringe in the worst sort of way. I literally hid under a blanket because I was so embarrassed for Buddy’s character.

I didn’t watch it again until I had kids of my own. Which, by the way, raises the bar on what you see as embarrassing. All the stuff that really bothered me the first time I watched it suddenly became seriously funny. Ah, the joys of being a parent, am I right?

The story

Buddy is a human who has been raised by Santa’s elves up in his workshop at the North Pole. One day he learns that he, in fact, is not an elf and that his real dad lives in New York. Buddy decides that the next logical step is to find his father, not only to reconnect, but also because the man is on Santa’s naughty list and perhaps there is a way to change that.

Unsurprisingly, Buddy’s dad want’s nothing to do with a 35-year-old man baby who doesn’t know how to function in the real world. His wife, however, is far more understanding and welcomes him into their home where he meets his half brother. Buddy can’t be trusted to be left alone. The last time they did that, he used the wood from their entertainment center to make a rocking horse. He has to go to work with his new found dad.

It doesn’t go well.

As a side story, Buddy meets a department store worker working as an elf for the holidays and totally falls in love. He’s so different from anyone that Jovie has met before, that she can’t help but give him a chance.

All this comes to a head when Buddy rushes to his dad’s work to tell him that he’s in love during a critical meeting, and what’s worse, Buddy inadvertantly insults the man his dad had the hopes of closing a big business deal with. Dad tells Buddy to get out of his life and never return.

Buddy, totally heartbroken, leaves to see if there is somewhere in the world he belongs and happens to spot Santa crashing into Central Park. It seems that without Christmas cheer, Santa’s sled can’t fly. Buddy, having been a North Pole elf, thankfully knows how to fix the engine and finally feels needed. In the meantime, his half brother convinces his dad that family is all about helping each other and they go looking for Buddy.

When they find him in Central Park, dad finally realizes that everything Buddy has told him about his past is actually true. He has a huge change of heart and helps Santa get back to delivering presents.

My review

For a Christmas story, this one is pretty perfect. We have an innocent character who only wants to do good in the world and one who’s lost sight of the meaning of Christmas and family. Through their interactions, they both grow and learn together what is really important. Do I still think it’s a bit silly? Yes. It’s over the top silly. But, now, with that blessed lens of perspective, I can laugh along with all the things Buddy does and just enjoy the story.

The story is well balanced, full of heart, and now a family favorite.

My recommendations

I’ll state this again, but if you’re the type that can’t handle watching adults acting childish, this movie will make you super uncomfortable. Buddy literally has no inhibitions, but he also doesn’t know any better, so much of it is forgivable if you can get that far.

There are hoards of positive messages and great role models of what it means to be good family and a good friend. There’s no real swearing, it’s all swapped out for silly things like “crap” and “meanie.” There’s one reference to someone being naked in a shower, but it’s not dwelled on.

For a clean fun Christmas movie, Elf gets a 4/5 in my book.


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Christmas Movie Review: Die Hard (1988)

I’ll be the first to argue that this isn’t actually a Christmas movie – it’s an action film that takes place at Christmas. Although, for fairness sake, when most Christmas movies are closely examined, they aren’t either – I’m looking at you Home Alone.

I rewatched Die Hard this last week because beyond all odds, hubby hadn’t seen it. And … it’s a Christmas movie that we could enjoy together that the kiddos wouldn’t be interested in – I’m totally counting this as date night.

The Story

John McClane is a New York cop who flies to Los Angeles to reconnect with his wife and kids. She moved when she got a job offer she couldn’t refuse and he didn’t follow because he loved his job in New York. The couple experienced serious relationship friction ever since.

He meets her at her swanky Christmas office work party at the Nakatomi Plaza and because this is an action movie, the whole building is seized by German radical Hans Gruber and his odd assortment of Euro-henchmen. Those in the party are promptly held hostage, but McClane slips away and starts assessing the situation as only a professional NY cop can.

Knowing he can’t beat Gruber and his team alone, McClane tries to call in the local authorities only to find the phone lines have been cut. He pulls a fire alarm, but it gets cancelled before anyone responds. He finally gets a hold of one of the radios and uses the emergency line to call in the situation only to be considered a prankster.

A single patrol car is sent out to verify that everything is okay. As the car is leaving, McClane, desperate to get the LA cop’s attention, throws one of Gruber’s team that he’d already killed in self-defense out the window at the car and then shoots at it with a machine gun.

With the authorities officially alerted and Gruber eager to get his hands on McClane, the situation turns into a game of cat and mouse. McClane is simply trying to not die as Gruber keeps increasing his efforts to find and eliminate him. It’s not really McClane’s fault that Gruber’s team keeps dying as they try to kill him.

All the while, Gruber is working his master plan, which is to get his hands on the untraceable bonds held in the building’s vault. He’s got a lock breaker who simply needs time to force the different levels of security. Everything else going on is a ruse to distract the authorities to what’s actually happening.

Does Gruber succeed? No. His end in the movie is perhaps the most spectacular and has been meme’d more than a few times. Even better, McClane also succeeds, not in saving the building, but realizing that he’d do anything to keep his wife safe and how much he really does love her (and also what a jerk he’s been in the past).

My Review

I don’t watch a lot of true action films, so returning to the genre is a nice change. Die Hard has held up remarkably well for being over 30 years old. The story is just as relevant now as it was back in 1988, if not more so, and the only parts of it that feel dated are the massive 80s hair on the women. Contrary to many contemporary action films, there is a well constructed story with good motivations pushing the different characters to do what they do. Gruber wants money, McClane wants to protect his family and the innocent bystanders in the building. Even the secondary characters are fairly well fleshed out.

There are a few strange plot choices within the story that are simply there for the story’s sake. McClane, following the advice from his seat buddy on the plane, removes his shoes to help deal with the stress and jet lag of travel. This makes it so he’s dealing with the entire hostage situation barefoot in a building with lots of broken glass, something that significantly ups the tension. The other strange plot choice is Gruber, a German national, counting on the FBI to cut the power to the building at a strategic time in order to release the last lock on the vault. It’s enough far fetched that the plan makes Gruber look either wildly brilliant, or a little crazy.

In the end, I was entertained and that’s all that matters. The main character learned how much he loved his family and he drives off into the Christmas night to the sound of Christmas music. So yeah, it’s totally a Christmas movie.

My recommendations

It goes without saying that this is not a kid’s movie. There’s unnecessary violence, blood splattering, plenty of language, and even a few short instances of top-only nudity. That said, older teens would probably really enjoy it for the well paced action that doesn’t push so far that it gets boring. There’s nothing that’s truly frightening or suspenseful, just action.

Honestly, I would recommend this for a fun, date night flick. There’s not a lot of complicated dialogue to follow so you can talk during the movie and not miss much.

I give Die Hard 4/5 stars for being exactly what it’s supposed to be and nothing more.


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Book Review: Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

Beautiful prose, an amazing story, fascinating characters, Strange the Dreamer delivered an experience above and beyond my expectations. When a fellow writer, who also loves all the pretty words, gushes about a book, you know you have to go read it. A huge thank you to Candace for recommending it, you can go check out her review here.

The Story

Lazlo Strange, an orphan child raised by monks and librarians, possesses an unusual passion for a legend that most dismiss as a fairy tale. He dreams of a place called Weep, an unusual city held under an unusual curse – anyone who speaks or thinks the name of the city experiences a feeling of dread paired with the taste of ashes. But, unlike other people, Lazlo remembers a time when the town had a different name, a beautiful name that filled the mind with wonder and butterfly wings. He also remembers the day when that name was stolen from him.

It is this theft that drives him to study everything there is to know about Weep. He hopes that one day he can find that name that once filled him with so much delight. As he grows older, it is this study that gives him a unique understanding of the legendary city. When a delegation from Weep visits his city seeking adventurers and scientists, Lazlo feels compelled to go with them – and despite his lack of real skills, is allowed because he knows stories. The leader of this delegation, none other than Eril-Fane the Godslayer himself, seeks the best scientists to rid Weep of the floating citadel shaped like a massive seraphim who’s outstretched wings prevent sunlight from reaching the city.

When Lazlo reaches Weep he encounters a strange blue girl in his dreams named Sarai. Lazlo doesn’t know that this is a marking of the cursed godspawn and the two of them instantly form a bond that is beyond friendship. His glorious imagined vision of Weep fills her with such delight that she can’t help but want to be part of it and the man who envisioned a world filled with so much joy and magic.

Naturally, none of this can last. Every element that brings Lazlo and Sarai together will be challenged. Eril-Fane wants the citadel which is Sarai’s home, destroyed. One of the scientists, Thyon Nero, is determined to undermine Lazlo’s every step. Minya, Sarai’s sister, wants Eril-Fane and all that dare threaten the citadel including Lazlo, dead, and wants Sarai to do it using her godspawn power over dreams.

Does anyone get what they want? In the way that only a truly masterful storyteller can manage it, the answer is both yes and no. I won’t elaborate further. No spoilers for you. But, if you’re dying to find out, here’s an amazing synopsis that covers literally everything.

My Review

This book blew me away. I’m a huge sucker for gorgeous prose and metaphorical language, not to mention amazing sensory detail, so all the poetic phrases were indeed welcome. In fact, I loved it so much that I immediately sought out the sequel, Muse of Nightmares.

With fantasy titles there comes an expectation of a complex storyline. While Strange the Dreamer has a complex story, the reading experience doesn’t feel complicated. The story alternates between Sarai and Lazlo’s experiences and as they draw closer together, the experiences draw closer as well. The main conflicts are always clear in the characters mind so as readers we know not only what that character wants, but why it’s important.

What does feel complicated is how the prose is assembled. While most fantasy titles published today stick almost exclusively to third-person limited, where we witness the story through the eyes and experience of the main character in third-person, Strange the Dreamer swings in and out of omniscient. This is usually frowned upon, mostly because when done poorly it’s jarring and distracting – and it’s almost always done poorly. For Strange the Dreamer, it feels right. We flow from one character’s thoughts to the next and the technique in Taylor’s hands gives the prose a very appropriate dream-like feel.

The characters were expertly created to be not only unique and well constructed, but unusual enough in each of their motivations to give the story multiple layers of interest. There’s not an ordinary character in the entire book, and that’s impressive for an epic of this size. In addition, the settings were also crafted with the same amount of care making them not only unique, but supremely interesting as well.

So yeah. I’m kind of in love.

My Recommendations

This book is still in YA fiction, but it reads much older than that. The recommended reading age starts at 9th grade, and I agree. There’s just enough adult themes and yearning that it might be harder for younger readers to relate with. There’s no swearing, minimal and appropriate gore, and it does tease at nudity, but never actually gets there. The kissing scenes do get quite descriptive, but don’t progress to anything more.

I mentioned gorgeous poetic prose throughout the book. This might make it harder for those who struggle with metaphoric language to enjoy the story, simply because everything is drenched in it. It also slows down the pacing enough to frustrate those who really want to see what happens next. For me, this wasn’t a problem because the beauty of the journey was just as rewarding as getting there.

Also, if you don’t like fantasy because there are elements that are hard to believe, you might struggle here as well. All significant story elements are anchored in entirely speculative elements. However, all of the motivation is strictly tied to realistic emotional responses which humanizes the unfamiliar and makes it all easier to digest.

I give Strange the Dreamer a rare 5/5 for excelling in all critical storytelling elements and doing it beautifully.


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Book Review: To Dream in Daylight, by Candace J. Thomas

It’s always a treat when a friend puts out a new book, and this is no exception. Candie and I first met at my very first event where I attended as an actual author. My short story “Breath”, which is now the freebie I give to those joining my newsletter list, had been picked up by a small press for a fantasy anthology and I was ridiculously proud of it.

Candie, on the other hand, already had two books out at the time, making her a superstar in my eyes. She was everything I wanted to be, friendly, confident, and knowledgeable about the publishing world. We instantly became friends and co-conspirators.

Which makes me even more excited to share her book with my readers.

The Story

Adrianna, or Adri for short, is a classic introvert. She loves curling up with books, writing, and only spending time with people in short meaningful bursts. Ever since she was little, she’d had a recurring dream with the same boy, Simon. They’ve essentially grown up together, neither knowing that the other was a real, living, breathing person – that is until Simon spots Adri in a random video online.

Completely dumbstruck by learning that his dream girl is real, Simon is compelled to meet her in person. One problem, he doesn’t know where she is.

My Review

This story is told from both Simon’s and Adri’s point of view in alternating chapters, with dream chapters nestled in-between. We see their lives unfold piece at a time and how this unusual dream the two of them share influences their decisions. Because of this unique construction, the story is definitely a slow burn. Different connections and realizations are carefully orchestrated to keep the reader wanting to see what’s next.

What I loved most is how the dream sequences were painted. As dreamers, they have control over the setting of the dream, meaning that these dreams occur in all the places an introvert would ever wish to go including Middle Earth, a space station, and different beautiful natural settings. Not only does this reveal several of the different interests of the dreamers, but it gives the reader a fascinating question to answer – where would you visit in your dream?

My biggest challenge with reading this book is that because it’s written in first person, it often took reading a few paragraphs of the new chapter before I as a reader was able to settle into the right character’s mindset. The chapter headers do tell the reader where the chapter occurs, which is a huge clue to who’s head you’re in, but I personally needed a minute or two for it to click.

Thomas does a wonderful job creating compelling characters with great emotional depth and dreams of their own. I was eager to see if Simon succeeded in his quest to find Adri and was very happy with the ending.

My Recommendations

This book is perfect for those who love an interesting romantic comedy. It’s got all the feel good connections, the threats to happiness, and two people that are perfect for each other, should they ever meet. There is that touch of magic with the dream elements, but not enough to deter anyone who isn’t fond of the fantasy genre.

As for age recommendations, there are several instances of alcohol consumption as well as appropriate romantic leanings that don’t stray into anything more than kissing. For that, I’d recommend this book for high school aged readers and older.

I give To Dream in Daylight 4/5 for being a cute romantic read that’s perfect for curling up with after a long day.


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TV Review: Lower Decks

This might flag me as a super nerd, but my little trekkie heart couldn’t pass this one up. Lower Decks is a officially liscensed Star Trek cartoon where instead of following the top brass as they brave strange new frontiers, we follow several lower deck crew members as they struggle fervently to not totally screw everything up.

Bravely going where no man has gone before. Or woman for that matter.

The Story

Ensign Mariner is a tough talking, utterly unambitious, oddly street smart member of the USS Cerritos crew. The goal of the Cerritos is to make second contact, meaning they follow around the more important discovery missions to do all the paper work. Mariner is also the daughter of the ship’s captain, Captain Carol Freeman, a fact that drives both of them a little crazy.

Each episode the crew is assigned to complete a new mission, much like any traditional Star Trek, and with each new mission we get to see how the different characters perform under pressure. Mariner’s friends represent different life philosophies, and as such react to all these bizarre events in very different ways.

Mariner’s closest friend, Brad Boimler, is desperate to get into command to the point that he will literally do anything to gain attention. This gets him into trouble, as his efforts are entirely misguided and shallow. Instead of being excellent at his job, he tends to seek out shortcuts instead. This makes him Mariner’s polar opposite. She is excellent at her job, despite being an inappropriate loud mouth while she does it, and she also has a knack for getting people on her side, something essential for a commanding officer.

There are also Tendi and Rutherford, two thoroughly geeked out engineers who fixate on how wonderful it is to do tedious engineering tasks. When it comes to real issues and dangers, the two are completely useless.

Mariner (center) has Boimler in a headlock as Rutherford and Tendi watch

My Review

Lower Decks is an irreverant and super amusing look at an industry that has prided itself in being serious since 1966. The whole feeling of the show feels as if someone took the attitudes from either Rick and Morty or Futurama and smashed it together with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Is it a perfect fusion of the two? Nah. Of course there are areas that could use tightening. Is it an entertaining show? Absolutely.

Much of the joy of this show is that it takes all the expectations of a traditional Star Trek – all the stiff stoicism, all the adherence to the Prime Directive, all the space ship utopia – and pokes fun at it in a fresh new way.

The one thing that’s missing from Lower Decks is a deeper meaning hiding beneath all the slapstick and violence, like we find in Rick and Morty. There’s no real message or theme that pulls the season together. Although it’s not strictly necessary, it would have turned something fun to watch into something that’s also interesting to think about.

Even with all that, I thought Lower Decks was fun to watch because of all the fun it pokes at traditional Star Trek all while carefully staying faithfully close to the franchise image and ideology.

And yes, they even snuck Q in there for his obligatory episode.

My Recommendations

There is a lot of gory freakish cartoony violence in this one, more than expected or strictly necessary. As the violence is usually used as part of a joke, the severity of it all doesn’t really register. It’s just kind of gross. The general subject matter of each episode also tends to skew into adult topics that often border on the inappropriate. There are plenty of mild swears, anything more serious is bleeped out. As for nudity, I think there are a few naked butts in there, anything else is blurred. There is talk of romantic interest, such as flirting, kissing, and dating and is at times a bit rude.

To put it short – this one’s for the adults and the teens they let play.

I give Lower Decks a 4/5 stars for being a fun romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously.


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Throwback Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides

This one’s the forth movie and the one with the mermaids, just in case anyone was struggling to tell the difference between one adventure to the next. Heaven knows I can’t keep them straight either. Ok, where were we?

Right.

In the continuing effort to indoctrinate the kiddos in all things nerd, we continued our quest down the rabbit hole that is the Pirates of the Caribbean universe, and this time both Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann have been left out of it.

I’ll take your Keira Knightly and raise you a Penelope Cruz!

The Story

Jack Sparrow is on trial in London for crimes against the crown. No surprise there as he is a nearly famous pirate captain and all that. But, instead of finding Jack under the prisoner’s hood, we find his first mate Gibbs instead. This sets us off on a long, arduous journey of deception, impersonation, and misplaced trust that continues throughout the rest of the movie with each of the major players.

Angelica impersonates Jack, using his legendary status to hire a crew out of London. Jack impersonates a judge to save Gibbs. Captain Barbossa changes teams, and gives up piracy to become a privateer of the crown, ridiculous wig and all, and the mermaids can shift to human form. Angelica lies to Jack saying she’s pretending to be Blackbeard’s daughter to reach the fountain of youth. This is a bit of a double cross, as she actually is Blackbeard’s daughter, but creating the lie made getting Jack to join the crew easier and their chance of success greater.

To say things get complicated feels redundant at this point, as every Pirates movie so far seems like it tries to out do the prior in complexity in some way or another.

The real story is about the legendary fountain of youth and each pirate’s captain’s reasoning for needing to reach it. Angelica wants more time with her father after their lifelong unexplained estrangement. Blackbeard wants to defeat a prophecy that he’ll be killed by a one legged man within a fortnight and continue being the most famous pirate ever. Jack, well, Jack never really is sure what he wants, but there is an inkling there that he wants to protect Angelica because they used to be together. And the Spanish – did I mention the Spanish? They’re in here as well, because needless complexity – they think the fountain of youth is an ungodly abomination and want it destroyed.

I mentioned mermaids. There are also freaky killer mermaids who’s sole purpose is to drag sailors down to the icy depths and, eat them? It’s not really clear. Part of the ritual of the fountain of youth is to drink a mermaid’s tear from one of the twin silver chalices found in the wreckage of none other than the 200 years missing Ponce de Leon.

Still following me? Why? Even my kids threw up their hands at this point and called the writers some not very nice names. I tried not to take it personally. In all honesty, the writers they managed to get all this stuff in there that I’ll stake money the producers wanted and still created an okay-ish storyline. Kudos to them.

After lots of swash, swash, buckle, buckle in every moment possible, although strangely enough no epic ship battles with cannons in this one, we draw all the different forces together at the fountain of youth and the various captains battle it out in their own ways.

I’d tell you who wins, but that would be all spoilery of me – which isn’t very nice.

Meet our star crossed lovers, the mermaid and the missionary, who are currently sitting in a pile of broken glass.

My Review

This one is probably my least favorite of the five movies only because there are so many elements that don’t need to be there and don’t make a whole lot of sense, like the Spanish fleet. While it’s okay to introduce a new pirate captain, if you’re keeping track there has been a new significant captain in each movie( and a small hoard of insignificant captains in movie three), having the extra Spanish fleet and captain in this movie felt underdeveloped.

The only reason he had to be there is to add relevance to Ponce de Leon being a famous Spanish explorer. Adding them in was a way to tie a few of the many trailing plot threads together. That, and the Spanish costumes and aesthetic were kinda hot. So, there’s that.

I would have liked Will and Elizabeth to have been part of this movie because they were significant parts of the first three. However, if they are supposed to now be in a safe and committed relationship, it doesn’t make sense for them to be in there unless yet another story line was introduced. The single female role of Angelica couldn’t have been swapped for Elizabeth by any stretch of the imagination. Will could only appear if the story needed the Flying Dutchman to make an appearance. So it was a good thing they got left out. I guess.

The mermaid bit also felt underdeveloped and forced. It was as if the producers were looking through pirate lore and noticed they hadn’t mentioned mermaids yet and did a brainstorming session of how to incorporate them into the film. Their whole contribution to the story was the single forced tear and a very light romance with a character whose entire reason to be in the story is to be the religious voice of reason – and fall in love with a mermaid.

In all, Pirates 4 has an ages old mystery to be solved, but it turns out finding the fountain of youth is kind of easy, so they threw in some extra action and romance to liven things up.

Did I mention the burning coal cart chase? They literally threw in a car chase in case the explainy bits got boring in the beginning.

Recommendations

If you’ve made it this far in the series you might as well keep going. The already established captains do a great job at what they are already good at doing and that’s pretty entertaining. The story, while weak in some aspects, has lots of interesting emotional elements going on, none of which feel terribly compelling, but are amusing nonetheless.

The violence, while still there, is notably less intense than the other movies and, since it’s a Disney, the cursing is non-existent. But, there are some lovely nekked mermaids who remain carefully draped and shadowed so you don’t see anything. Good thing they have long hair or they’d have to change the rating of the film. And get a different production company.

I rate Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides 2.5 of 5 stars for too many underdeveloped ideas.


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