Fantasy fiction, television

House of the Dragon is Better Than Game of Thrones, And Here’s Why

Recently I watched season 1 of the Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon. I had originally decided I wasn’t going to watch it because, a) I no longer have HBO, and b) like any rational person, I’m still upset about that ending. Although I knew the book prequel was in fact published (I’ve shelved the damn thing), and the showrunners aren’t pulling their material out of thin air, I was still not feeling it for a visual adaptation (even one starring Matt Smith).

Anyway, here’s the short version on why I changed my mind: One day while sorting returns at work, my eye fell on the new release DVD of HotD, and the rendering of the dragon behind the Iron Throne and one of Dany’s ancestors, about the same age as Dany was herself at the start of GoT. In a heartbeat, I was reminded of what we all loved about the original series — sharing the journey of a young woman simultaneously blessed and cursed with a great birthright, and everyone else trying to take it from her.

I was hooked from the beginning. I watched all 10 episodes in 2 days. I thought about each plot point constantly when I wasn’t watching. I couldn’t imagine the agony of having to wait a whole week between new episodes when it first broadcast. I had to know what would happen next.

In short, I loved it, and I need season 2 NOW.

I liked it more than Game of Thrones. And this is coming from someone who genuinely appreciated some of the plots/themes/storytelling in both the books (yes, I have read them) and the OG show. BUT, GoT always gave me (many) reasons to hate it, too (even before we reached the extremely problematic finale).

I could write an entire separate post on this (maybe one day I will), so here’s a brief recap of the stuff I won’t ever forgive GoT for:

  • The CONSTANT violence against women and children. There were seasons when we couldn’t go a single episode without seeing some poor woman raped or a child murdered. There was less brutality in the books, so they can’t even claim it was sticking to the source. And I didn’t need to witness every bit of every incident, either. It was why I skipped a majority of seasons 4 and 5. ENOUGH, ALREADY!
  • The absolute lack of rationale on the part of, well, practically everybody. In the books, there were only a handful of people clamoring for the Iron Throne, and it was always someone who believed they had a legitimate claim through original royal lineage (like Dany), or through the altered succession brought about by the coup (like the Lannisters and the Barentheons). In the show, the fact that pretty much any small-time knight with a parcel of land to his name decided he had the right to grab for the crown just became silly.
  • The way nobody ever seemed to think it necessary to explain things to the audience. When you adapt a book to the screen, you have to assume many viewers will not have read the original stories, and it’s clear GoT‘s showrunners didn’t understand that. The ONLY reason I knew who was related/allied to/hated each other, and why, was because I looked up the family trees on Wikipedia before reading the books. On screen, there was so little explanation of the connections I missed almost all of it, and was totally lost until I did the research.
  • Because you couldn’t follow 90% of what was going on, you couldn’t get invested in the seasonal subplots. I skipped entire character arcs because I was bored. I didn’t care about what’s-his-name from where’s-it doing something terrible to who-the-hell-is-this-again-and-how-does-it-matter. The books went into ALL the details, and yes, that means they’re behemoths, but they’re behemoths that make sense.
  • Of course that ending. No logic plot-wise, totally breaking character for EVERYONE, major deaths happening offscreen, and ending on the MOST DEPRESSING, STUPIDEST note EVER, by crowning an arrogant kid with NO royal blood and sending the RIGHTFUL king to the Wall.

*Deep breath* Okay, so, on to House of the Dragon. *Warning: Spoilers!*

The show starts off by establishing it’s taking place about 6 generations before Dany, and the current setting is during the rule of Viserys the Peaceful, so called because the Seven Kingdoms remained together and largely without war. We’re introduced to the present king — who is apparently slowly going insane — and his family, which at this moment consists of his very pregnant queen, and his only living daughter, Rhaenyra. Of course, it goes very badly for the queen, and not only do both mother and child not make it, the king is left without the hope of a male heir. And we all know in worlds set in medieval times, this is considered a BIG problem.

This show is shot on a smaller scale than the original, meaning there are only a couple of big battles, and many of the effects are saved for the dragons (which are AWESOME). There is considerably LESS graphic violence against women (thank God!), and child death is few and far between and mostly offscreen. The explicit violence is absolutely still explicit, so be warned for that. But even the profanity was toned way down (it’s like the directors had a limit for f-bombs and really objectionable swears!).

It wasn’t surprising to me that Viserys goes against the grain and names Rhaenyra his successor. What did intrigue me was the lack of public outcry about it. When it happens, the lords (and ladies) that don’t really approve keep their opinion quiet, and the competition for who will become the future queen’s husband is on. This hints at some major long-game playing here, and that’s what the original show lacked. The only OG character with a clear long game was Dany; the Lannisters and the Barentheons and all the northern lords didn’t have a plan for civil war breaking out, or the people of King’s Landing rejecting them, or if another nation invaded, or, or, or. In Westeros’ past, everybody was quite aware that if there was more than one challenger to the Iron Throne, the entire system could come crashing down, which is bad for all of them.

Despite there being a whole lot of minor characters, there was a bunch of dialogue that explained who was who, who meant what to the king, and who is in control in what area. The scenes of the Green Council meetings aren’t filler; they give us vital clues as to who will stay loyal to whom, and who will probably switch sides and create later conflict. I appreciated this so much after 8 seasons of GoT pronoun-and-nickname-gaming.

The first round of the long game goes to Lord Hightower, who encourages his daughter, Alicent, to befriend the newly-widowed king, and the friendship becomes more, and the king eventually marries Alicent. It is a little uncouth by modern standards, as Viserys is about 40, and Alicent is only 16 or so, but, again, medieval times, different cultures (and, remember, it’s fiction, folks). From the perspective of Alicent’s father, Lord Hightower (who believes Westeros will never accept a woman ruler and wants to avoid civil war), it’s a stroke of genius. Indeed, pretty soon Alicent starts having children, and she does give the king a son — by many views, the obvious, real heir.

But the twist is that Viserys won’t hear of changing his succession, and he continues trying to find Rhaenyra a proper future prince consort. The next issue comes up when there are indications towards Rhaenyra and her uncle (the king’s half-brother, who we know very little about) getting involved in the “odd custom” (yup, think Cersei and Jamie). Viserys doesn’t like that at all, and when his brother Daemon does ask to marry Rhaenyra, it’s a flat-out no, and the king arranges a “more suitable” match for his daughter.

However, Viserys’ choice is a disaster waiting to happen — it’s his distant cousin’s son, who is secretly gay, and therefore very unlikely to produce heirs for the kingdom. A whole lot of drama does occur in the future (sooner and later) because of this unfortunate pairing. And, again, it all goes back to people doing what someone else wants because of trying to avoid a war. As the episodes progress, it’s clear that war will become inevitable.

It’s time for a tangent on how much I love Rhaenyra. This princess is totally badass, determined to hold on to what’s hers by right, and refusing to play to stereotypes about her gender. She tries to play nice even with the people she’s worried are plotting against her. She knows her cousin’s secret, and agrees to keep it, protecting his life and his family’s reputation. She finds a lover — an honorable knight — and maintains a discreet relationship, producing grandchildren for her father and the royal line. Later, when people guess something’s not solid and start questioning who really fathered her children, she doesn’t cave to pressure and doesn’t sell out her fake husband or her lover. (The truth is uncovered through a network of devious spies in the castle, and it’s pretty obvious they’d sell Rhaenyra herself down the river, given half a chance.) Despite suffering significant personal losses, Rhaenyra rises strong at the end, ready to defend her birthright, even though it means challenging her own half-brother for the Iron Throne.

And, no, I know we can’t get around the “odd custom” issue as being problematic; and while I don’t deny that, here’s why I feel it’s not as straighforward ewww and ick as, yup, Cersei and Jamie. In some cases. Yes, there’s actually a range in this show. For several reasons. Bear with me.

Rhaenyra’s mother was from a family in Riverrun, so that’s no previous relation to Viserys. Cool. Since Rhaenyra doesn’t “couple” with her arranged husband, and her lover is from a noble family outside of the Targaryen line, that means her first, second, and third sons got a diverse mix of DNA. (And I really like the way her in-laws still consider those kids their grandchildren, although everyone knows that biology-wise, it’s realistically not true.)

Then, when Rhaenyra and Daemon do wed later on, yes, he’s said to be her uncle — but, according to an early episode, the nobility knows Daemon is Viserys’ half-sibling, at best, and I had to wonder (more than once) if the real reason so many of the lords are so resistant to the idea of Daemon being granted any higher rank or power is because he’s not really a Targaryen. The only “proof” we’re given of Daemon’s parentage is that someone told Viserys this was his half-brother — that’s literally it. And at one point, Daemon openly refers to himself as a “bastard second son,” so that means his heritage has probably always been uncertain. So, maybe the bloodlines of Rhaenyra’s fourth and fifth sons aren’t as entwined as we might think.

Besides, when you consider that initially Viserys and Alicent were both extremely adverse to the notion of marrying too closely within the family tree…and then as the king descended further into madness, and Alicent deeper into desperation and paranoia, they wed their oldest son to their youngest daughter — EWWWWW!!! ICKKKK!!! That’s so much worse than Rhaenyra and Damon (especially if my theory is even close).

Here’s the other thing I majorly appreciated about the storytelling, even with the controversial themes and morally iffy characters — all of the main players in this complex long game were easy to sympathize with. Unlike GoT, where eventually I wanted to see almost everybody die (except for Dany, Jon Snow, and Tyrion), I don’t believe there’s really a villain here.

Viserys went mad, something that probably couldn’t have been prevented. Alicent was the pawn in a system that was always going to use her purely as a means to an end. Rhaenyra has to fight tooth and nail against exile at best, death for her whole family at worst. Daemon never wanted to be king, never tried to take anything from Viserys, but has to constantly prove his loyalty; and, yes, there is a dark side to Daemon, and you do have to wonder how far he might go to save himself or his loved ones, given the circumstances. But, again, consider the fact that everyone is against him and he has been surrounded, for years, by those who would see him not just fail as prince, but be dead.

All the lords who choose Aegon over Rhaenyra when Viserys dies are definitely perpetrating a sexist system; but they’re also trying to keep their own houses safe, in a world where forward thinking and change really isn’t a thing; so if saying so-and-so is king and somebody else isn’t means thousands of lives are spared, you can hardly blame their reasoning.

If anything, the villain in House of the Dragon is itself; the corruption within a system that the Targaryens helped to build; the greed from certain family members for ultimate power; the lengths some people will go to achieve their own selfish ambitions. There are plenty of characters and plot moments I haven’t even touched on here, mostly because it would make this post waaay too long. Suffice it to say, if you don’t mind the well-deserved R-rating, like high fantasy, historical fiction, and/or were ever invested in A Song of Ice and Fire, this is absolutely worth a watch.

I’m already so excited for season 2 — and hoping and praying these writers acknowledge the past sins of their colleagues, and give this story a sound, fitting ending, one worthy of Dragonriders.

entertainment, television

The Invisible Moth Watches… Part 2

So, in recent months, I definitely have not been watching many new releases or even paying much attention to the hot movies or shows; mostly because I saw or heard just enough, thanks to those few unskippable ads on YouTube, to convince me there wasn’t a lot out there that matched my tastes right now. But lately, a few pieces stood out to me, and although my access to streaming services is extremely limited, I do have the ability to use the regional library catalog, and that means I don’t have to wait until I can afford to buy the DVDs. This definitely worked to my favor because I got to see Violent Night and House of the Dragon without spending a penny. Oh, and I caved to Muffin’s encouragement, and watched Wednesday, too.

Violent Night was so much fun! I’m aware there are very split views on whether violent Christmas movies are actually “okay” or not, but this is certainly not a film meant to be sentimental or romantic or sweet. The entire premise is that bad things happen to good people, and that the power of optimism and maintaining faith in something bigger than yourself, even in the face of terrible circumstances, can pay off. Maybe it was the mood I was in that night, but watching Santa Claus tan some bad guy hide really hit the right note. Between the very deserved R-rating and the concept, I know this definitely won’t be on everyone’s list, but if it is on yours, it’ll be a blast!

Bullet Train and The Lost City were also library DVD grabs. Having watched both of them within a week, I absolutely stand behind Sandra Bullock and Brad Pitt having cameos in each other’s movies for the next 10 years, and giving us tons more of those adorable platonic BFF vibes in these brief but totally awesome scenes. On their own, each of these films were definitely campy, but again, a lot of fun, and there were still some good points in Bullet Train about family and friendship loyalty, and in The Lost City about not judging a book by its cover, literally, and regarding people.

I’ve never been a huge fan of The Addams Family, but I do remember the movies from the 90s (no one think too hard about how old I am, pleeeeease), so I know the main characters and some of their major traits. This meant I didn’t dive into the deep end of Wednesday without a clue. And, when it comes to keeping up what people expect from these beloved characters, yes, I think the show did a pretty good job, especially for the title character, Uncle Fester, and Thing. (THING! More on him in a bit.)

BUT. As with any updating of a classic story, there might be problems, and when it comes to the plot, Wednesday has about a MILLION of them.

For one, taking such an established canon world as The Addams Family, which turned the tropes of monsters-in-the-human-world on its head, and making the premise of this show about as cliche as possible — there’s a boarding school! with vampires! and werewolves! and just generic weirdos who need a place to fit in! — makes me shake my head more than a little. Also, of course both of Wednesday’s parents attended Nevermore — of course that was where they met — and of course the current Headmistress has a questionable past with Gomez and Morticia. Sigh.

Not a single grumble about the casting for Wednesday and Morticia; both Jenna Ortega and Catherine Zeta-Jones were fantastic. And the complicated mother-daughter relationship portrayed works because it comes across as authentic here, not just for drama. But it also isn’t, well, necessary. Particularly when the episode where the families come to visit the school give the impression that all the kids have “complicated parental relationship” issues, and then it feels even worse than cliche — it’s repetitive. If Wednesday was the only one who didn’t get along with her family, and Enid’s mother wasn’t a jerk, and the siren community wasn’t manipulative, and Xavier’s parents didn’t have high standing to worry about, and… It was literally the same old, same old for every secondary character, and it meant I barely paid attention to the subplots (evidenced by the fact I can’t even remember some of their names or what their particular concern was, since it all just blended together, and promptly faded away).

The whole plot of the Hyde, and who the monster really is, is so convoluted that it makes very little sense by the time we get to the big reveal in the season finale. It’s one of those times where, if you think about it too hard, the whole thing just falls apart. People’s motivations don’t make sense, the connections to the school and past students and families don’t really work, and the concept behind the ghost that appears to Wednesday was simply ridiculous. The idea of an Addams ancestor being part of the Puritan witch hysteria in colonial New England does not measure up at all — especially because somebody states Gomez’s ancestors were from Mexico, something that I don’t ever remember hearing before, and there were no Mexicans in colonial New England. It isn’t bigoted, it’s factual to state this. Such a mistake by the scriptwriters, the directors, and the editors is just sloppy, or arrogant, and really ticked me off.

I did keep watching to the end, partly because Muffin had already watched the whole season and raved about it (he’s only 8 and more forgiving of tropes and errors, after all), and he wanted me to do the same. The number of times I rolled my eyes went up more and more with each episode, but I do have to say, the flashback in episode 6 with the young Gomez and Morticia was great. Those actors, for all of their 10-minute screen time, had excellent connection and a grasp of the characterization and the meaning of the moment they were showing the audience. Honestly, I’d watch a spinoff season about Wednesday’s parents’ time at Nevermore starring those two. That’d be fun.

The other super-bright spot for me in this really tangled web of Addams Family spinoff was Thing. Thing being so protective of Wednesday, guiding her, helping her learn to trust her new friends, all without saying a word (naturally, as he’s just a hand) was so good. Enid’s bond with Thing, Uncle Fester’s history with him, Thing arranging Wednesday’s date to the dance with the boy he knew she really liked… Just, THING! It’s fair to say he was my favorite character.

And now, just a bit about House of the Dragon (since I’ll probably write a whole post about this pretty soon).

House of the Dragon is even better than Game of Thrones. The storytelling is deeper, more straightforward, a lot less symbolic and rambling on about side tangents designed to make us realize how terrible 95% of the people in this world are. Since it’s a prequel, there are plenty of familiar families and places, but going back about 5 generations helps us to find out who was truly seen as good and bad, and we finally get all the divisions spelled out, and why. The audience at last — without having to Google it — gets to see where the Targaryen family tree split, and how sides were picked among the houses of the nobility. Although it was harder to follow some of the minor characters, and I missed the grander worldbuilding among the various cultures that we saw in the early seasons of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon makes sense, and when I was so lost for much of the previous 8 seasons in this universe, that was such a refreshing change. And even the characters who are meant to be bad, or morally grey at best, I could understand their motivations and watched with great interest to see what became of their plans. There’s also a LOT less graphic sex in the prequel, though the violence was even upgraded a bit — which is saying something! — and these shows absolutely remain TV-MA. Also, there were distinctly less dragon scenes, which feels a bit ironic for a program titled House of the Dragon. Oh, well. There’s no way there won’t be a season 2, and here’s to hoping and praying these writers learn from the sins of their colleagues, and keep the storyline concise and rational.

And that’s all for today! Have a great week, everyone!


Is Publishing On A Slippery Slope?

The publishing industry has been making some big headlines lately, and unfortunately not for good reasons. Between the recent strikes and lawsuit hearings that involved some of the Big 5 publishers, the apparent acceptance of using AI to create art, and the announcement that some of Roald Dahl’s books are going to be edited for content and then re-released, life in or near the industry has been, well, interesting.

Personally, I supported the editors and agents who chose to strike — awful working conditions for them haven’t exactly been a secret — and truly hope they are getting the results they need. I read some of the news reports regarding court cases on not letting already massive publishers merge and become even more corporate, and really, I agree with that, too. And yes, the idea that newbie authors could use AI to help them generate a story or a novel, which they would then rep with an agent, and yes, possibly get a publishing contract, does seem like cheating, taking the creativity out of creative writing, putting authors who literally make it all up ourselves at an extreme disadvantage, if the AI results are considered “more desirable” by the industry. But, I have to say, because the news about Roald Dahl’s works has come in the midst of all these things shaking up the status quo of the industry, I do believe this is the straw that will break the corporate publishing camel’s back.

I don’t like censorship — not even censorship of books that I personally find problematic, even controversial. Basically, once most people realize a book is truly bad, in terms of deliberate misinformation or pushing a message that’s not very healthy or beneficial for readers to take to heart, sales drop off so drastically that often the books become almost hard to find, and usually old copies show up in library discard bins or bargain sales at thrift stores. My point is, give the public a chance to decide if something isn’t just distasteful but really dangerous. Let people use their brains, instead of being spoonfed (and in some cases having it shoved down their throats) what’s actually “good” and “bad” when it comes to fiction.

That’s the part that blows my mind about the whole Dahl situation: The publishers are insisting — for example — that people will be traumatized from reading multiple uses of the word “fat” in a fictional children’s tale. Written in the 1960s, when, whether we like it or not, the word “fat” was just what one said when describing a plus size person. If any of this theory is true, and humans are such whiners who are scarred for life because a nasty antagonist also happens to be overweight, then, WOW. And having read many different takes on the “correcting” and re-releasing debacle over the last few days, I honestly don’t think anyone is.

Dahl has been a controversial writer forever. He has many devoted fans, fans who still see problems with his work, and critics who stand by their argument that his work is too racist and sexist and stereotypical. Having read a few of his books and seen a few of the movies, I’d put myself in the category of, I can see what fans appreciate, but I also see issues, and wouldn’t call myself a fan. BUT, a whole lot of this discussion needs to take CONTEXT into consideration, and that’s a major factor the publisher is just plain ignoring.

These books were written in a different era, a time period when, by modern standards, politeness was not that polite, when common prejudices weren’t called out, when the majority of people reading children’s books just were middle class Caucasian families. None of that is cool; it’s awesome that literacy and accessibility to literature and genre fiction has expanded SO much in the last 50 years, and nowadays there are big chances of a kid from a racial or ethnic minority coming across James and the Giant Peach or Matilda or The Witches in a public library. (And they may even love it.)

So, back to the heart of the matter: CONTEXT. If the publisher were to pull older editions (pre-2023) of Dahl, then include in the re-releases a note or a reader’s guide, about the importance of putting Dahl’s stories into the CONTEXT of the era in which they were produced, without changing any of the actual text, that would be seen as honest, transparent, even admirable. This is a great time to be talking about what characterizations or plot points are considered problematic, and why we might not use certain adjectives or phrases or slang in literature now. But to remove the offensive parts in question, replace them and act as if they never existed, that opens up an enormous can of worms.

For one, the publisher is attempting to rewrite history. They’re doing so right under the nose of the reading public, without their permission, without caring if they object. The company is being blatant about altering the long-set-in-stone words of an author who has been dead for a long time. What does that mean for other authors’ books in the future? Let’s say in the year 2078 someone decides Stephen King shouldn’t have described Pennywise the Clown as having a red nose, because that’s somehow offensive. Are they going to make sure whoever owns the rights to Mr. King’s publications at that point hunts down every single potential reprint of “It” to have the printers remove the horrific combination of red and nose in the same sentence? Maybe by 2078 clowns won’t even be a thing anymore, so, again, people, CONTEXT.

And, from a practical standpoint, how much money is Puffin going to waste on these new Dahl editions? Which will, after all the hoopla, probably not sell very well at all? The devoted fans are already condemning them. People on the fence about Dahl’s stories weren’t excited about buying them, anyway. And many of Dahl’s critics will realistically say it’s too little, too late.

This isn’t just a cautionary tale for not mucking about with classic lit. This is being seen by many authors as a huge red flag about the sanctity of copyright laws. Readers are very concerned about not only the censorship, but the way Puffin is taking matters into their own hands, against general legal advice and common publishing practice. If there was going to be an event in this year that wouldn’t just shake up the industry but shake it down, I really believe this is it.

Only time will tell. But I really do sense some rumblings — so here’s hoping they’re moving in a good direction.


Horror with Heart: A Review of Such Sharp Teeth

I just read this book in two days. I am still reeling — in such a good way. I don’t like horror, I don’t care for most romance, and I hadn’t even read a werewolf-themed book in over a decade. But when this title crossed my path at work, I stopped sorting the check-ins to give it a second look. I took a few seconds to read most of the blurb, and was immediately sold.

My instincts were right on. This book, everyone. THIS. BOOK. Such Sharp Teeth is the first I’ve read by author Rachel Harrison, and although I realistically won’t try her other work — her genre of choice just is not my thing — it totally made my week, probably my month, hell, maybe even my century.

The core plot is the plight that befalls 20-something Rory (Aurora) Morris, when driving home late one night and accidentally hitting a huge animal with her car. Yup, I kind of gave it away — said huge animal is a werewolf, and Rory gets bitten, and yes, there are then transformation issues about to ensue. Of course, the dust jacket gives away that much.

The deeper story is that Rory has become a career-driven person, not really going in for relationships, and she seems to be holding some inner pain at bay. She came from a small town and escaped to the big city as soon as she could. When her twin sister, Scarlett, heavily pregnant, tells Rory that the baby’s father is no longer in the picture, Rory puts everything on hold to go back to this suburban dullness she ran from, because it’s her sister. The werewolf thing, naturally, comes at a really bad time (well, when is there ever a good time to become a lycanthrope?), since the baby is coming soon, Rory plans to go back to her job in the city eventually, and Rory’s former high school suitor is really making her re-think her no-relationship rule.

THIS. BOOK, everyone. The way the author explores the complicated dynamics of a family that’s dysfunctional but trying not to be, of trying to heal after trauma, of trying not just to survive but to make yourself better, for yourself, all wove together in the narrative, all went deep, all felt so true. Eventually we do find out what took place in Rory’s childhood to make her put up a wall, not want to trust or grow close to people (especially men). The fact she struggles with so much anger and grief after the bite, of being frustrated and frightened that, now she’s a werewolf there are moments when she can’t be in control of her own body and mind, is such a relatable metaphor.

The other thing this author completely does right in her narration is LETTING her protagonist feel all the range of feelings, without self-shaming or falling for the lie that “the right kind of man” will help her “get over it all.” Yes, Rory’s love interest, Ian, does play a role in her journey from hating her new werewolf self to acceptance. BUT — and this is the part so many of these publications get wrong — Rory reaches the conclusion that she could be lovable, that she might want to be with Ian no matter what, ON HER OWN. She gets there over the course of the story, through a lot of reflection, mistakes, following patterns that actually don’t help, of simply being a human doing her best to recover from a horrific experience.

THIS! BOOK! Considering I’m only recently out of an abusive relationship, and my children and myself are presently dealing with pain, regret, a sense of loss, some guilt, and a bit of rather justified anger, this book spoke to me on SO many levels. Rory’s desire to retain some sense of normalcy, in the face of something utterly catastrophic, her determination to stay optimistic, gave me hope for my own uncertain future. Our heroine’s practical, proactive nature resonated so strongly with me (after spending the last six months clearing the clutter out of my house and rearranging spaces that for too long had been claimed by other people’s resentments and denial). My connection to Rory made immediate sense, and made me want to consume this story in as few hours as possible.

The other thing, times two, that the author does so right (when too many other authors totally screw it up) is her secondary characters are NOT annoying, NOT complete asshats, NOT self-righteous jerkwads. Scarlett is facing her own demons, trying to be a good sister and aware she might be failing, hoping to be a good mother and worried she’ll implode. The sisters’ mother is a bit of a mess, but she’s also somewhat conscious of that, and she really doesn’t know how to fix it, but at least she recognizes that Rory has reason to be upset about the past. The men in this story — the sisters’ stepfather, their best friend’s husband — are DECENT PEOPLE. Ian, Rory’s love interest, is a solid example of positive masculinity. Even Scarlett’s maybe-ex-significant other turns out to have more layers to him.

This isn’t your stereotypical werewolf tale, either. There are no warring packs, no complicated hierarchies to master, no the-novice-must-prove-themself premise. Rory only has to conquer her own fears, expectations, and setbacks as a wolf. There’s a good deal of humor and moments to make you smile sprinkled through the pages, so that you don’t get bogged down in too much angst or despair. Yes, there is plenty of crap going on, and Rory is dealing with a mountain of it, but she doesn’t give in easily. She’s far from a damsel in distress; she’s focused on rescuing herself, not waiting around for someone else to do it. That is also a fantastic message to send to survivors: You matter. Not “because” anything — you matter, period. You are worth the effort to heal. Not just for the hypothetical perfect future partner. For yourself.

The ending shows that all the characters, even those with furry sides, are still human, struggling with the complex factors of supposedly the most mundane kind of life; and while it turns out there isn’t exactly a villain, the antagonist does play an important role in plot and protagonist arc. There’s action, and gore — werewolves, after all — and drama, that never quite gets to soap opera status, a rare and welcome departure from most paranormal romances on the market. This novel hit all the high notes for me, and provided some surprising little gems of self-actualization, too.

I know that with the the R-rated content, this won’t be on every reader’s radar, but if you like horror or monster stories, especially contemporaries with relatable characters, snappy dialogue, and an engaging pace, then absolutely give Such Sharp Teeth a go.


7-Year Blog-iversary: The Moth Rises from the Flames

Good morning! As we wrap up the holiday season, we’re coming to the mark of yet another year of this blog existing! When I originally created a profile and wracked my brains for blog topics, I was an aspiring author with a tween and a newborn and a neurotic but awesome furry soulmate. A bit of a learning curve, and several turns of imposter syndrome, later, I managed to garner a following and now have several publications under my name.

There were months when it seemed near impossible to keep going, and having a touchstone to come back to of people who believed in me has been invaluable. Some of you have been with me for years now, and your ongoing support and encouragement mean so, so much more than I can actually put into words. While I don’t know just what awaits, I am looking forward to sharing the journey! Again, and as always, thank you all!


2022 End of Year Wrap-up: Basically Just Consistent Screaming into the Void

2022 was…a year for me. Some of you may have noticed it got pretty quiet around here, and whenever I tend to fade into the background on this platform, there’s always a reason; in the past, either it’s been health issues or needing to take the time to finish a project or focus on teaching a class. But this year, there was so much going on that I didn’t know how to put into words yet, or there were certain things I really didn’t want to talk about — and, hey, it’s my blog, so I get to choose the topic. I discussed some subjects a little more on Twitter, but in general I’m not an open book on all of this, and in some instances, there are very good legal reasons for me to stay a bit quieter.

So, for those of you who aren’t aware, I have been separated from my spouse since the beginning of June. It was my choice, but the decision became necessary, and it was by no means a simple one. The short version of the past six months is that it’s just been me and the kids, and I’ve been torn between spending my spare time working on cleaning out the decades of accumulated junk in the house, and writing and finally finishing Volume 4. That’s partly why I haven’t been very active on the blog these past two seasons, I simply have devoted myself to other endeavors. I’ve managed to get a lot done on the first, and some done on the second.

Last week I found out that my library aide position is being eliminated from the 2023 schedule. So, in just another week, I am out of a job. The “good” news is that, since I generally work two or more part-time jobs almost all the time, I still have a reliable source of income. But, and there’s no way of slicing this in a positive light, the fact that I’m getting kicked out of a position I’m good at and enjoy just sucks. And given the lost wages, it is more important than ever that I finish and at long last publish Volume 4 — but right now I don’t have much energy or emotion for creative writing. So I’ve become my own worst enemy on the publishing front, but my origin story is justified.

Because of all of this, I also haven’t read nearly as much as I was hoping to this fall. Over the summer, I got back into a pretty good habit about reading 4-5 times a week (instead of the 1-2 I’d dropped to). But I haven’t even cracked open my beloved and much-awaited Lore Olympus #3. I have absolutely no idea where to begin on the mountain of library discards. So I have very little content to post in the way of reviews or discussions on specific titles or series. That’s another reason I don’t imagine blogging very much in the next few months.

I also have decided not to be whiny during this time, so whenever I was just in a rotten mood, I chose not to create a post complaining about publishing tactics I don’t agree with, or authors whose works I don’t care for, or the fact I wish Tiktok would stop teaching my kid the most annoying memes. Despite the truth of my life being a pretty raging dumpster fire these days, I am still trying to maintain some semblence of positive vibes.

It has definitely been far from easy. There are moments I really feel lonely; moments I feel like just pushing on for another day is not enough; when I desperately crave someone else being the adult. But I’m also aware that wallowing more than temporarily also won’t change anything, and sometimes all I can do, the only option available to me, is to just keep pushing on.

And I know there’s no point in constantly announcing further delays to Volume 4; it’s why I stopped posting updates on that a while ago. I’ve even stopped setting myself deadlines; it gets done when it gets done. Although I will admit this does hurt my heart a little; this series has been so near and dear to me, and the work I’ve completed on it so far is a big source of pride for this little moth. So needing to draw back from it when I could really use the comfort has stung a bit.

So, basically that’s what’s going on. 2022 will forever be a stand-out, but not for the best reasons, so I’ll be going into 2023 with a touch of a cynical view (not gonna lie), but also with the hope for better. In some ways, I have more hope for better than I have in a long time, and that is its own brand of special.


The Littlest Dinosaur’s First Christmas: The Adorable Picture Book Series Continues!

Good morning! Today I’m back with R&R Book Tours, highlighting the festive holiday installment of The Littlest Dinosaur series! This is an absolutely wonderful picture book series, perfect for young ones who love dinosaurs, and parents will also enjoy the lovely illustrations and heartwarming messages about friendship, tolerance, found family, and what kindness really means.

(For anybody who’s interested, the other titles are “The Littlest Dinosaur,” “The Littlest Dinosaur Finds a Home,” and “The Littlest Dinosaur Goes to School.”)

The Littlest Dinosaur’s First Christmas was published last year, by the same authors of the other titles, Bryce Raffle and Steven Kothlow, and the pictures by Tessa Verplancke are just beautiful to look at, the soft lines and deep shades pull me right in. In this installment, Mama T-Rex and her child, Ty, and her adopted, Littlest, are getting ready to celebrate Christmas — and, in traditional form for these tales — the kids learn a beautiful lesson about generosity and the true tidings of the season. (I can’t even go into details, because, spoilers, but also, I’ll start getting all teary!)

I highly recommend these books for families hoping to find more stories for children that authentically weave themes of diversity and inclusion, with cute characters you’ll be rooting for, a bit of appropriate humor, and some excellent positive vibes!

About the Authors:

Bryce Raffle was the lead writer for the video game studio Ironclad Games. He also writes
stories for young adults and designs book covers.
Steven Kothlow is making his debut as a children’s book writer. He hopes to tell many more
stories that help spread a message of diversity and inclusion especially in children’s literature.

Tessa Verplancke is a sound designer by day and an illustrator by night. She lives to tell
stories through as many mediums as possible.

Book Blitz Organized By:

R&R Book Tours


A Few of My New Favorite Things

So, this was the year that the entertainment industries really tested my mettle. I was fed up with endless sequels to dying franchises, reboots of movies or shows I’d either never heard of or had no interest in; I ran out of authors to try, genres that didn’t make my eye twitch, and titles that didn’t sound hackneyed and trite. I didn’t even recognize most of the music artists in the Top 40. I felt bled dry, and when you’re a creative, you need to refuel that space inside you that’s meant to thrum with intrigue and inspiration.

So I decided to go waaaay far afield, give up on all known entities (for the time being, at least), and explore vast, uncharted galaxies of story, visuals, and harmonies. Here are some of my wins in this venture…

(On Netflix) Love, Death and Robots. OH. MY. GOD, just eeeeeeeee!!! with how much I LOVED some of these episodes! This show is definitely adults-only, and there were a few that I just didn’t care for, but I am sooooooo glad I took a chance on this anthology series. It’s a collection of mostly animated short tales (many only 20 or so minutes long), some based on novellas or stories by well-known sci-fi or horror authors; others are ideas that apparently just came up in the writers’ room, and the result is simply great. In no particular order, here are my personal faves:

“Mason’s Rats”: Once upon a time, in a not-too-distant future, an elderly curmudgeon of a Scottish farmer had a rat problem. He employed the most modern robotic methods of extermination, and didn’t quite get the results he expected…but they do turn out to be the results he needed. A truly heartwarming ending.

“Jibaro”: This is a truly groundbreaking piece. One of the few episodes using live action and actual humans, it was told without a single line of discernable dialogue. The scene opens on a medieval forest, and a group of soldiers on their way to wherever. Our protagonist is a deaf man who communicates with his colleagues through sign language. In the beginning, all sounds — conversation, wildlife, the wind, the river, the horses — are significantly decreased and muffled for the audience, presenting how it’s experienced by the hearing-impaired main character. As the rest of his army is drawn into the river by a siren’s song, he gets the chance to escape, because his deafness protects him from her dangerous call. Most of the story between the solider and the siren is told through pantomime and dance (downright excellent choreography), and it is spellbinding until the end.

“The Tall Grass”: This was a thought-provoking, honestly pretty scary, little tale of a train pausing unexpectedly among uncut fields, what an unwitting passenger discovers there, and the frankly wonderful conductor who saves him. Again, it’s only about 15 minutes long, and there is a LOT to unpack after those few precious moments onscreen. Masterfully portrayed.

“The Drowned Giant”: One day, in England (probably late 20th century, based on the fashions and technology), a literal dead giant washes up on a beach. It’s seriously a human easily 60 feet tall, and he’s just plain deceased. He looks young, and there are no clues to how he passed, where he came from, or how he ended up on this beach. Of course humans come to investigate, and everyone from scientists to trophy hunters to local tradesmen begin taking parts of the body; eventually what’s left starts to fall away, and will soon be reclaimed by the waves and sand. Even before that’s finished, the rumors begin — the giant was never really there, it’s an urban legend, it was a case of mistaken identity, and so forth. But the locals know the truth, even if they don’t talk about it anymore. A really interesting take on the subject.

“Sucker of Souls”: If you don’t mind some gore, if you’re into anime, and vampires, you’ll certainly get a kick out of this snappy little episode about archeologists and their hired bodyguards getting stuck in an underground vault with Count Dracula — gone full bat-monster-mode.

“When the Yogurt Took Over”: Narrated by Maurice LaMarche (of Pinky and the Brain and Futurama), this is a delightful short satire on the concept of yogurt becoming sentient and one day ruling the world. I absolutely loved listening to The Brain calmly telling me about how soon we’d all be outdone by advanced dairy products. Brilliant.

“Ice Age”: One of my absolute favorites, this is an adorable story of a young couple who move into a new apartment, and discover in the freezer of an antique refrigerator an entire, thriving, tiny civilization. Simply charming.

“The Secret War”: A Soviet platoon responds to a distress call in a remote village, where something sinister and apparently not human has been up to no good. When realizing just how serious the situation is, the soldiers must fight to defend not only themselves, but possibly their whole country, and their sacrifices will require the utmost courage and comradery. Despite the violence, the animation in this one is fantastic.

“And now, for something completely different…”

(Graphic novel) Lore Olympus. MY. GOSH. THIS. SERIES! I wasn’t familiar with the webcomic, so when I picked up the first printed installment of episodes 1-25, I had no idea what a treat I was in for. This is a modern retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth — one of my favorites — and the art, the characters, the evvvvverrryyyything is just superb. Because it’s in graphic novel format, it’s an easy read, but in noooo way does “easy” mean underperforming. Author and artist Rachel Smythe packs alllll the feels into her chosen medium, and Lore Olympus is premium storytelling.

The relevant aspects of the Greek myth are all present — for example, Hades is the god of the underworld, Persephone a spring goddess and daughter of Demeter; they meet suddenly, and Hades is immediately taken with Persephone, but she’s very on the fence about how to proceed. The emotional processes are updated, along with the setting — Olympus is now basically a parallel realm to today, with the ancient deities wearing modern clothes, having cell phones, newspapers, the internet, and cars. Unlike the version in most English class textbooks, which is rather truncated, Smythe’s retelling involves many different gods/goddesses and creatures and entities from the rich and broad Greek mythological pantheon.

Volumes 1-3 are available in print format, and there’s more to come, based on what’s already been released in the webcomic (over 200 episodes!). I am more than ready to find a way to make space on my already overflowing shelves for these gorgeous creations!

“And now, for something…”

Audiobooks narrated by actors, not readers — Most recent example: Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton.

Generally I like audiobooks — sometimes the format is preferable, because I can do chores or browse the web while listening, instead of needing to devote all my attention (and hands and eyes) to printed words and a tangible object. But I discovered pretty quickly that the major downside to audio is the narrator can make or break the story. Earlier this year, I didn’t finish several books on CD because the reading was so stilted and dull, or had the strangest take on a character’s accent or pronunciation, and understanding what was actually said was almost impossible.

It turns out the alternative, and often, fix to this is to find audiobooks read by actual actors. Whether they’ve worked in films, theatre, or animation, people who have been trained in making sure everyone can know what they’re saying will deliver a much more satisfying listening experience. After accidentally ordering the audio version of Stephen King’s novella, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, from the library system, I realized how valuable the choice of narrator is. Will Patton, a seasoned actor, was an absolute delight to listen to, as he took the audience through this non-horror, still a little spooky, but also very charming, King tale.

By the way, Netflix made a movie version, which I’ve watched as well, and really enjoyed. How am I batting two for two on this selection?! Actually, never mind, let’s just take the win and run with it.

“And now…”

(You Tube channel) Music Video Sins. Already being a fan of Cinema Sins and TV Sins, I fangirled a little too hard (until 1 a.m., to be precise) when I discovered these content creators also had a short-lived foray into sinning music videos. Most of the hip-hop/rap tracks I’d never even heard of (please don’t call me old), but it was a lot of fun catching up with bands and artists I knew about but lost touch with their work when I stopped listening to mainstream radio.

It turns out my music preferences haven’t changed that much in the last 10 years…which presents an interesting conundrum. I could either…ahem…try to keep up with “what the cool kids are into these days,” or accept that I’ve apparently reached my peak of crafting my taste when it comes to melodies and lyrics, and just be content with that fact. The last couple of years, I find myself much more drawn to the likes of indie alternative bands and video game soundtracks, rather than what’s topping the Billboard charts, anyway, so I guess deciding to pass on Taylor Swift’s and Adele’s new albums isn’t too much of a loss. (Just please don’t call me old…)

And there we have it! What were some of your favorite entertainment discoveries this year? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Thoughts on The Sandman, and the Future of Graphic Novel Adaptations

A few weeks ago, shortly after its premiere, I watched the Netflix live action adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s famous graphic novel series, The Sandman. I admit to not being very familiar with the source material (except for a little research I did after watching a couple seasons of Lucifer, which was loosely based on the comics). But when it comes to anything involving Mr. Gaiman, I know I’m going to try it, and The Sandman was no exception.

The Sandman focuses on Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming, the plane that humans reach when they sleep and dream, and that often intersects with our world in strange and possibly dangerous ways. This is one of Gaiman’s very adult works, and the story is no fairytale. Morpheus himself is a tough, somewhat jaded entity, worn down by thousands of years of humans breaking his trust and meddling in things they shouldn’t.

The Netflix show is exquisitely shot, with absolutely breathtaking cinematography; crisp, clear detail in every range, from the vivid colors of a spring meadow, to a dark, drab, rainy night of terror in London or rural America. The cast is superb, with so many of the actors, even in the smallest roles, being utterly committed to either making your blood run cold (David Thewlis as John Dee immediately comes to mind), or restoring your very faith in humanity (Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death). Despite the brevity of their scenes, Gwendolyn Christie (of Game of Thrones fame) as Lucifer Morningstar and Stephen Fry as Gilbert were truly enjoyable to watch. And my heart was absolutely captured by Matthew the raven and Gregory the Gargoyle.

Because the show is basically an anthology of several different storylines from the comics, some characters only appear in one episode (like Joanna Constantine, an updated version of the world-weary demon hunter John Constantine), and the story does skip around a fair amount, trying to fit in a lot of separate pieces. The unfortunate result is we’re introduced to an amazingly diverse and intriguing world, that we never get to dive deep into. My overall feeling when I finished watching was, “Um, sorry, but, what??”

The best example of this is the penultimate two-story episode, the season finale, “Dream of a Thousand Cats” and “Calliope.”

First, I love, love, LOVE that so many Doctor Who alum and folks who have worked with Gaiman before turned up to lend their talents to the talking cats, and to the cautionary tale of keeping a Greek muse hostage. “Dream of a Thousand Cats” was definitely one of my favorites in the whole show. Realizing it’s David Tennant saying, “Good night, Fluffball,” to an adorable animated kitten, and that it’s Sandra Oh as the Siamese feline Prophet, just put a massive smile on my face. And on a side note, I firmly believe the blueprint for a Warriors movie now exists, after watching the incredibly GORGEOUS animation in this short masterpiece.

But again, it was over so quickly, and then we were onto the next; and while I felt the vignette of “Calliope” was pretty well flushed out — in terms of the tale of the struggling author — the reveal of Calliope’s ties to Morpheus raised SOOOO many questions…that are simply left dangling.

And so we come to the second part of this discussion: Since movie and TV show versions of graphic novels are now a Big Thing, how do we maintain fan service while successfully sharing the story with a new audience?

Fan service matters; it’s a necessary appreciation for the people who helped make the original work a commercial success. But, there does have to be a transparent format for making sure those of us who weren’t around at the start get all the relevant details — without needing to Google everything later. (The Umbrella Academy is one of my biggest examples of not doing this well.)

If this isn’t executed properly, eventually the audience shrinks back to the original fans, and the show gets cancelled, or the next movie doesn’t get made. And this means fresher premises and cool characters will once again be sidelined for another exhausted reboot of the same old, same old franchises with way too many installments.

I seriously applaud studio and network executives who are trying to find something we haven’t seen a million times before. But if we can’t make these stories more accessible to more people, then the idea backfires. And I really think that’s what we need to figure out before the next big pitch goes into production.

So, what is the answer? I’m not sure, to be honest. The Sandman had big budget effects, terrific acting, good direction, and coherent scripts, but there was still a lot lacking. Many scenes felt…rushed, or cut without explaining something important. Are we to blame the staff of the editing room? They probably only followed instructions from someone else. Or the showrunners? Maybe they were simply doing their job as well, by trimming or removing or excluding. A film of any sort is a team effort, with tons of factors at play.

Though I do know we, the audience, are missing something, and I really, really hope we can get it back, and soon.


The Worst Thing I’ve EVER read?

Obviously, this doggo would not be the worst ANYTHING — he’s looking rather puzzled and dismayed on purpose, because of the astoundingly perplexing experience I recently had, attempting to read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.

I think those of us who read constantly, and in a number of genres, may toss around the phrase “the worst thing I EVER read!” at least a few times in our lives. It’s even possible we’ll hit our lowest low, then one day a new title will actually take that coveted place from its previous designator. And with all the good books in the world — and with taste being subjective! — the notion that we may end up hating more titles than we actually enjoy either suggests we simply don’t have much selection to choose from, or that we’re very finnicky in our reading selections.

I’ve written before about the problem of both scenarios. Both have their valid points. However, when it comes to the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I have a feeling the issue isn’t a persnickety bookdragon, but rather that this is a prime example of what in the literal hell was the author smoking and why did the publisher take the same drug to consider giving this total dumpster fire the green light.

On the surface, the Flavia de Luce series, of which The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first installment, is a typical silly murder mystery, narrated by protagonist Flavia, a precocious 11-year-old living in England in the 1930s, coming from a wealthy family run by the housekeeper — who of course is a terrible cook — since her eccentric father can’t do anything remotely adult-like, and her older sisters are spoiled brats. Flavia takes an early interest in chemistry, and this is how she solves the unexpected murder. This might, in theory, be so bad it’s just funny; but, it’s truly, truly not.

The fact is, Flavia is one of the most unhinged fictional characters I’ve ever come across. She doesn’t act, think, or speak like an 11-year-old (not even a child genius one!) — she behaves like a 45-year-old cynical misanthrope who thinks any pursuit in life outside of chemistry is just dumb. She believes herself superior to everyone — without any evidence towards this mindset — and behaves accordingly. She has no desire to be around other children, and doesn’t even like many adults. She mocks and taunts her older sisters and every facet of their beings, until they can’t take it anymore, and tie her up and lock her in a closet. And the revenge she decides to take on them for this action (of self-defense, clearly!) is to put poison ivy in her sister’s favorite lipstick. Just. What.

In the narration, Flavia is near insufferable before the end of the first chapter. Even listening to the audiobook, I wanted to reach inside the recording and strangle the total sociopath crackpot that was supposed to be the “heroine” of this story.

I certainly do not mind needing to suspend disbelief when reading fiction, nor do I feel every character has to be relatable or even realistic. BUT.



I guess common sense, and even actual facts, went completely out the window when it came to editing this piece of trash. NO RATIONAL CHILD ACTS LIKE THIS. Flavia reminds one of a villain origin story, of a person with severe emotional or mental disturbances, who will later be the very murderer a police detective protagonist is hunting. She was literally trying to poison her 16-year-old sibling. This is not clever, amusing, or morally acceptable!! How in the HELL is this a bestselling series?! HOW and WHY did many, many people keep reading *9* of these books?!

I didn’t even make it through all of the first disc. By the time I took the disc out and prepared the set for its return to the library, I thought to myself, “This is very possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.”

And those of you who have been around this little corner of the internet for a while, you’ll already be aware I don’t tolerate stupidity in fiction well.

For me, the biggest WRONG with the entire situation — series, author, publisher, readers — is that everyone seems to believe, without irony, that Flavia is a witty, confident, ahead-of-her-time little firecracker. Rather than seeing her as a serial killer in training, desperately in need of being shipped off to a military-style boarding school that will take away her chemistry set, she’s viewed by the fans as underappreciated due to her age, but the other characters will come to respect her (after she shoves her self-righteous nose into police business and puts her own life in jeopardy). Her normal, grounded, sane siblings are to be thought of in the same light as the evil stepsisters from Cinderella. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her muddle-headed, overly neurotic father, because he’s a widower with 3 kids (that he never takes care of), and a vast, inherited estate. *Of course* the idea that Flavia is smarter than the village police isn’t meant as anything other than a slightly cheeky plot device.


This, humans, is why I prefer cats and dogs.