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T5M: Top 5 Dream Fictional Vacation Spots

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes.

Hello, friends! It’s my birthday today, and I just moved into my first apartment over the weekend, so I am BEAT! My muscles have never been so sore, even when I first started going to the gym and lifting weights. In fact, one could even say I need a vacation! Here are my top 5 dream fictional vacation spots ;D

5. Middle Earth

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I mean, I wouldn’t want to visit when Sauron is doing his bit with the Ring, but the scenic imagery in these books is unparalleled. Tolkien was a master of placing you in the environment so exactly, you’re surprised to look up from the book and realize you’re not there. Especially in the fall time! Autumn is my favorite season, so I’d love to visit then. Perhaps the elves, or the hobbits, to wander the explosively colorful forests or sample some cider. If I were braver I’d venture underground to visit the dwarves, but alas! I’m not made of such stern stuff.

He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

4. Pellinor

 

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One of the things I love most about this series is the imagery. The descriptions of the countryside the characters journey through is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, but I also love the food descriptions. Just as in Middle Earth too, there are many different regions with different types of food, and Alison Croggon details them all lovingly. I love to eat, so I’d travel to Pellinor for the food alone!

The taste on her palate was pungent and rich, the flavor of woodlands and dark earth simmered in sunshine. ― Alison Croggon, The Naming

3. Assassin’s Creed series

This one is a little unusual, as the Assassin’s Creed series takes place in real history, with some sci-fi elements. The biggest being that the main character relives the memories of his ancestors, which are locked in his DNA, by use of a machine called the Animus. Therefore, the games are highly accurate to their respective time periods, and totally immersive. I’ve since fallen off with this series (Black Flag was where I stopped playing), but I go back to the early games again and again. It’s easy to lose myself for hours in their landscapes.

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Assassin’s Creed is stylistically my favorite, as it takes place in the Middle East during the Third Crusades. Middle Eastern art and architecture is my favorite style, and was a joy to study in school. Playing a game within that place in history is a wonderful experience for me.

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The runner up would have to be Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, which takes place in Constantinople in the 16th century. That sprawling city, with it’s eclectic mixture of Middle Eastern and European elements, made me curious enough to research and seek out information on Constantinople, and the Turkish empire, on my own.

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And of course, who WOULDN’T want to visit the Renaissance Italy of Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood, and rub elbows with the master artists??? I think I need say no more ;D Hurry up and invent that Animus already!

2. Themyscira

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I mean, come on! It’s also known as Paradise Island! There are beaches to lay on and tan with the ocean steps away. There’s ancient Greek art and architecture galore for an art nerd like me. Plus, it’s protected by the Greek gods, so there’s a guarantee your vacation will be uninterrupted by mortal danger… and even if there is, the entire island is populated by badass warrior women, so you’d be safe. Who wouldn’t want to visit???

1. Agrabah

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Daring sword fights, magic spells, princes in disguise… wait, I think I’m mixing up my Disney movies, but I daresay the sentiment remains the same ;D The lush textures and flavors of Broadway and live-action Aladdin adaptations were totally spellbinding for me. What I wouldn’t give to wander the marketplaces of Agrabah: to run my hands over the silks and jewels, to taste the fruits and delicacies, and drown in all the scents! And visit the royal palace, to lounge sunbathing beside the fountains and make friends with a certain tiger ;D And, of course, if you’re up for a little adventure, the Cave of Wonders is only a camel ride away.

Any of my dream fictional vacation spots make your list, too?

Kathleen

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Batgirl & the Birds of Prey (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Full Circle

The Birds have been quite busy. Babs has been gathering a lot of good intel lately, to stop crimes before they even begin. The team feels great, but Barbara herself… isn’t. She hasn’t told Dinah or Helena that she’s been getting all this intel from a backdoor she left in Calculator’s system the last time they ran in with him. When Calculator discovers Oracle has been snooping in his system, he becomes obsessed once again, and will stop at nothing to discover Oracle’s identity. When a former member of their team gets caught in Calculator’s crossfire, Barbara’s secret is unveiled. Dinah and Helena feel angry and betrayed. Is this the end of the Birds, or can they band together once more to defeat Calculator once and for all?

I’ve probably said it before, but I’ll say it again: this is my favorite Rebirth title. The new Birds keeps the friendship and sisterhood of Barbara, Helena, and Dinah at the core, while freshening up the characters and stories for modern audiences. I’d say this run is suited for middle-grade (depending on the maturity of the child) and YA audiences just as well as adult. This volume especially shows the importance of women standing and working together, which young girls need to see! Birds of Prey also shows that girls can overcome big differences to become friends, sisters, and teammates.

Unlike with Rebirth Wonder Woman (of which the more I read the more I realize background knowledge is needed for newcomers to the title), Birds of Prey doesn’t make background knowledge a necessity. Calculator has been after Oracle before in the original run, but it’s not vital to know the details before coming to this run. BOP has been the most newcomer-friendly Rebirth title I’ve read, and the most important for young ladies!

– Kathleen

Benson, Julie, Shawna Benson, Roge Antonio, and Marcio Takara. Batgirl & the Birds of Prey (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Full Circle. 2018.

Aquaman: Unspoken Water

After the Drowned Earth series, Aquaman’s fate is revealed in this new series by Kelly Sue DeConnick. This story begins with the amnesia trope as Arthur has washed up on a remote island, called Unspoken Water, and is saved by a beautiful young woman Caillie. He has no memory of his past and is hesitant of the water.  The few island inhabitants are a strange lot and later reveal that Caillie is the daughter of a sea witch that was banished long ago.

The story then moves into a complicated mythology-heavy narrative about revenge. The island inhabitants, not surprisingly, are not what they seem, nor is Caillie. When Caillie and Arthur try to find her mother Namma to end the curse on the island, they get more than they bargained for. Mera had an incredibly small role in this story, and although I assume Arthur has not been missing long, she is being encouraged to remarry as this story has The Odyssey overtones. Later she realizes he is alive, so hopefully, this remarriage nonsense will be put to rest. The end of this volume promises a future battle with Namma, and I would hope it also includes Arthur reclaiming his identity and reuniting with Mera later in this series.

The art was outstanding, with Robson Rocha and Daniel Henriques visualizing DeConnick’s tale in a beautiful way. The water scenes, with waves crashing, made you feel as though you really were surrounded by the ocean. The pages showcasing the ten Gods as they merged between their human form and their godly form included great detail and I spent some time looking up the Gods along with their cultural connections and history. The coloring was vivid and brought the creatures to life as they burst out of the panels.  The only minor issue I had was in Loc’s human portrayal, as it was an unnecessary caricature.

As I’ve been on an Aquaman and Mera kick lately, I was pleased to receive this advance copy of the graphic novel through NetGalley. It is always interesting to see different author’s and artist’s versions of a character, but of course, there are some adaptations that will be more favored. In my case, it was Geoff Johns’ The New 52 that I have liked best, as this story became quite muddled in the middle with the mythology angle. I might look into the aforementioned Drowned Earth series, because all the Aquaman and Mera books I have read have been stand-alone stories, and I want to see them involved in the Justice League as integral members of the team.

-Nancy

Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 8): Dark Gods

A pantheon of terrible Dark Gods has come to Earth, bringing with them death and destruction. People everywhere are renouncing their own faith in favor of the Dark Gods’, causing riots and worse. The Justice League was supposed to be their cavalry, but with their defeat, Diana and Jason are on their own. The Star Sapphires summon Wonder Woman to help them conquer their own threat, and Jason is left truly alone. Diana is left with no choice but to help the Star Sapphires, while praying Jason can hold out against the dark deities until her return…

Mostly I found myself confused with this volume. It’s now becoming painfully obvious to me that I have to read Dark Nights: Metal before I can read any further, so I can understand not only everything that has done on here, but in previous volumes as well. As I was laying on the beach reading this though, it really didn’t bother me as I went through =P The writing otherwise was still pretty solid, and it was an interesting ride for sure. The entire world embracing darker values over light, and the ensuing consequences, certainly gave me a lot to mull over. It was also fun to see Wonder Woman make a return to the Star Sapphires; she hasn’t done so since Blackest Night!

Without giving too much away, and not knowing how this plot point relates to Dark Nights: Metal (I’m sure it does somehow), I’m even more annoyed by Jason than ever. A plot point occurred to grant him potentially greater powers than Wonder Woman, or at the very least a much wider variety that he is able to access with ease. He’s starting to feel overpowered, and in a cheap way at that. His character arc is really starting to undermine years and years of history and hard work that Diana’s creators, and Diana herself, have done. As long as Jason is a part of Wonder Woman’s story, well, sorry… but I’m just not that interested.

– Kathleen

Robinson, James, Stephen Segova, and Jesus Merino. Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 8): Dark Gods. 2019.

Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale

Fifteen-year-old Selina Kyle has been through a lot in life already. Her mom, a waitress, has had a string of boyfriends, each crueler than the last. Dernell, the latest, tops them all. Selina reaches her breaking point and leaves home, striking out on her own and living on the streets. Her street smarts and quick, sticky fingers ensure she doesn’t go hungry or get hurt, even by the so-called Gotham Growler that’s been prowling the streets at night. When she meets Ojo, a parkour expert and fellow street kid like her, he offers her a place in his found family, and the next heist they’re planning. Selina refuses, believing she doesn’t need anyone. But maybe even lone cats need a family, every once in a while.

There was a lot going on in this one. At the forefront is Selina herself: her struggles with her home life, her feelings of hopelessness and despair, and her determination to never rely on anyone again. This is a Selina perfect for a young adult audience. Perhaps teens who read this will also be grappling their own broken homes and horrible feelings associated with it. As Selina shows us, it’s okay to open up and accept help every once in a while from those loved ones who offer it.

The review I read before it was published made it sound like the Gotham Growler was going to be a prominent part of the story, but it was very minimal. We don’t even find out who he is or why he’s attacking people in the end, which was pretty disappointing. And even though there is a thieving element, it is played down as well, to allow Selina and the tentative relationships she forges with the other street kids (and renews with one Bruce Wayne) to come forward.

Author Lauren Myracle is no stranger to teenage feelings and situations in her work (she’s written the ttyl books), but I was very surprised artist Isaac Goodhart is a relatively new face. His CV consists of a bare half-dozen titles, and this is his first DC title. Given his short career, I was amazed at the quality of his work. The whole book is in hues of deep, moody blues and purples, with pale yellow accents. His linework is precise, yet expressive. The audience will appreciate that writer nor artist held back with the deep and hurtful stuff.

As an adult, I found some plot points to be too convenient, but overall this DC Ink title will satisfy the intended YA audience. This dynamic duo pull no punches in this imagining of Selina Kyle’s teenage years. Though the story is hard, Selina’s inner strength and determination will be what stays with readers. I will be watching for more of Goodhart’s work, and I sure hope he and Myracle team up again in the future!

– Kathleen

Myracle, Lauren, and Isaac Goodhart. Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale. 2019.

Mera: Tidebreaker – Take²

This is the second time in recent memory I’ve accidentally read and reviewed a graphic novel that Nancy has read first… I must be slipping in my old age =P

Mera, princess of the underwater kingdom of Xebel, is exasperated at her kingdom’s continued deference to Atlantis. The Atlanteans want peace, but at the oppression of every other kingdom around them. Mera knows she can change that and defeat her enemies once she takes the throne. Only problem with that is, her father the king has promised Larken, Mera’s betrothed from the Kingdom of Trench, the throne if he can find and kill the Prince of Atlantis. The infuriated Mera decides to take matters into her own hands to claim her rightful throne. She makes her way to the surface to find the long-lost Prince of Atlantis and assassinate him. Arthur Curry turns out to be much different than she imagined, and slowly he becomes less of a target and more of an innocent… and perhaps something more than that. Can Mera fulfill her quest for vengeance and justice for her people, and claim the throne that is her birthright?

I skimmed this one after a while as the story bored me (plus there was an SVU marathon on, and I’d rather route all immediate brain bandwidth to that!). I’d put the reading level at upper middle-grade, and it definitely showed in the classic love-triangle (rectangle if we’re including Arthur’s girlfriend at the beginning of the story) romance trope. Mera herself flip-flopped from being ruthless to lovestruck (with both boys) so fast, I got whiplash. There were plot points that were confusing and not explained clearly. For example, why was Mera’s watch able to work out of the water? Wouldn’t it break if exposed to air for extended amounts of time, like our devices would if exposed to water? That is seriously bothering me and I need an answer X,D

The art was unique. It was rendered in shades of the same bottle glass greens and blues, with Mera’s red hair as the only other color. The characters were rendered expressively, with a style that reminded me a little of Burnside Batgirl, which is appropriate as that run was also aimed at teen and middle grade readers at the start.

Nancy and I seem to be in agreement on this one. For the target audience, this is a heartstring-pulling, feminist ode to your favorite aquatic princess. For everyone else, it’s a bit of a slog. Skip it yourself, but definitely pick it up for your library’s youth collection or the young comic-lover in your life.

– Kathleen

Paige, Danielle, and Stephen Byrne. Mera: Tidebreaker. 2019.

Catwoman (Vol. 1): Trail of the Catwoman

I found this one on accident while looking for another Catwoman title – but once I saw the late Darwyn Cooke was one of the creators behind this title, how could I pass it up? =P

After faking her own death, Selina Kyle (and, by extension, Catwoman) has gone into hiding. But cash runs out quick, and she needs some more if she’s to go back home to Gotham. She calls in a few favors and rounds up some old friends to pull off one last, big, heist. As in “stealing from the mob” big. As in “train robbery” big. A load of unmarked mob money transported to Canada via train sounds just perfect. As Selina and gang pull their plan together, someone is on her trail. Someone knows Selina Kyle isn’t dead, and private eye Slam Bradley is hired to find out why. When their party is sold out to the very mob they’re stealing from, forget the cash; will Selina be able to get out alive?

I’ve tried reading noir crime graphic novels, most recently Criminal by Ed Brubaker (who, coincidentally, co-wrote this one) and Sean Phillips, and I just can’t seem to get into them. I’m not a big mystery reader, nor do I like a lot of violence in my reading, though I do enjoy psychological and interpersonal dilemmas. This one though? Hit the sweet spot.

Cooke and Brubaker created a stunning work with this one. The art is intense, line-heavy, and by turns bright neon and Gotham dark. It reads just like an old heist or detective movie. The imagery evokes the old Hollywood aesthetic: dangerous glamour glimpsed through a screen of cigarette smoke. It set the atmosphere perfectly.

The writing is excellent. We bounce between a few characters, some of whom giving conflicting information, so you never quite know who to believe. We hit the ground running and don’t stop until the last explosive has been detonated. Not only was there action, there were tense moments between characters that alluded to conflict in the past. There was just enough given for the reader to fill in the blanks themselves. I’m sure some is explained in previous runs, but it was fun to imagine =P

Having never read a Catwoman story before, I think I set the bar pretty high for myself with this one. It was exactly as I had pictured the perfect Catwoman story: a high-stakes heist, a little romance, a lot of drama and atmosphere. As for the big bad Bat? He was only mentioned a few times in passing, and seen twice. Readers who want to know what Selina Kyle gets up to without Batman around are sure to love it, as well as crime readers and those yearning for a bit of old Hollywood.

– Kathleen

Cooke, Darwyn, and Ed Brubaker. Catwoman (Vol. 1): Trail of the Catwoman. 2011.

Green Arrow (Return, Vol. 5): City Walls

The Riddler is loose in Star City. Apparently he’s decided to expand his franchise outside Gotham. But Green Arrow and Speedy soon discover that Riddler is a front, a distraction, for something bigger and badder. A millionaire named Davis wants to keep Star City safe, whatever it takes. He summons a magical barrier around Star City, one that even Superman can’t penetrate. No one can get in or out. What’s worse, he’s also summoned demons who uphold the law to the letter. These demons will appear to uphold the peace; from grand theft auto to a shove, nothing is above their notice. Green Arrow will have to break the spell, but he can’t possibly fight an army of demons all by himself, right?

… Man, I’m pretty done with this run. I don’t know if this volume was truly subpar or if I was reading it in the car on a road trip I didn’t want to take in the first place and was projecting =P I remember being frustrated with the last volume for some Women in Refrigerators plot points, and while this volume didn’t have as much of that, I still don’t think I’ll be continuing this run.

The art continues to be the reason I keep trying to read this arc. I’m a big fan of the bold lines and graphic style. However, it continues to be the only constantly good thing in the run.

The writing for the most part is solid. Most of the stories in this run have been compelling, especially those that are dealing with heavy character introspection and development. This kind of writing only seems to be reserved for the male characters, however. Mia Dearden finally put on a mask in this volume. I’d been waiting for it for a few volumes now, but couldn’t bring myself to get excited when it happened, because it felt like I’d slogged through too much male resistance to get there. Gee, that sounds pretty familiar in a Green Arrow story…

This run started with so much promise for me, but petered out quickly. Hit me up if there’s an iteration of Green Arrow that isn’t so macho manly man centered!

– Kathleen

Winick, Judd, and Phil Hester. Green Arrow (Return, Vol. 5): City Walls. 2005.

Free Comic Book Day 2019

For the fifth year in a row, I have brought Free Comic Book Day to my library. I pick up a good selection of titles from my favorite comic book store, Graham Crackers, and offer them to the library patrons when they come in. I also had some Star Wars and superhero crafts available for kids to do as well. I know, I know…I’m pretty awesome to offer such epicness to my library community, and this year we had the biggest crowd yet. As an added bonus, I love getting a sneak peek of the titles, and this year I choose seven.

Hope proved to be my favorite of the seven stories I picked up. It introduced the story about Julie, a mother who is secretly an Ultra and keeping her secret hero identity even from her husband and daughter. When a car accident with her family reveals her secret, Julie’s life is upended and her daughter is taken from her. This was strong introduction with very promising story lines, in addition to the bright clean art. Perhaps because I am a mom myself, I could imagine myself in her shoes (plus who doesn’t wonder what they’d do if they unexpectedly obtained super powers).

As soon as I saw a pug on the front cover, I knew immediately that Mike Norton of Revival fame was the illustrator, so this was a must read for me. This story is mash up of two existing comics- Grumble, with a physic and wisecracking pug, plus The Goon, a muscled fighter of supernatural creatures. It was odd pairing of characters, definitely more geared for existing fans of either series vs a new reader like myself. At the end there was a reprint of the story Hillbilly.

My Favorite Things Is Monsters took the comic world by storm and for good reason: the author/illustrator Emil Ferris is crazy talented. In this comic three vignettes are offered- one that describes Ferris’s path to publication, a short about Karen and her brother Deeze talking to neighbors and a how-to-draw-a-monster segment.

In this issue we get a small, touching scene between Nancy and Steve, as Nancy is concerned her little brother Mike is not coping well after their monstrous adventures. They try to draw him out by encouraging him to return to his involvement with his role playing games. There is an additional Black Hammer story afterwards, which introduced me to Madame Dragonfly.

This issue had a few Marvel stories in them, and like I said after reading last year’s FCBD issue, it can be hard for someone who is mostly a fan through the movies to connect with these stories that vary in author voice, illustration style and time period. The first story had some heroes that I don’t usually associate with the Avengers, such as Ghost Rider and Blade, so that was amusing at one level. The second story, The Savage Avengers, had a much grittier vibe and featured Wolverine.

This issue contains two stories- one about Venom and his reemergence, and the second one is a light hearted romp between original Spider-Man Peter and the younger Miles. The first story is very dark and violent, so I found it interesting that they paired it with the next story that was all about the two Spideys arguing over pizza and could be read by a younger demographic than the first story.

Blood Shot gets yet another revamp, this time under author Tim Seeley. I read Bloodshot: Salvation for the first time last year, and was intrigued by this soldier of fortune, who would just like to be free of the shadowy agency Project Rising Spirit and the super powers he had forced on him that transform him. In this story, he saves a scientist from a dangerous cult and it serves as a prequel to the upcoming series.

All in all, I felt I picked up some strong titles. I was most intrigued with Hope, and liked the peeks into Stranger Things and My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. The others were good reading, but the free issues won’t make me pursue the series.

-Nancy

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