Review: Jurassic World

I must start this review by saying that I did not expect to love this movie. It’s the fourth JP movie, and the second and third gave me no reason to suppose that a fourth one would be anything but a further slide down from the original. So I didn’t expect to love this movie…but I do, and actually just as much as I love the first Jurassic Park movie.

Let me be clear: Jurassic World is not a good dinosaur movie, in the sense of providing any kind of accurate depiction of dinosaurs as we currently understand them. But it is a fantastic Jurassic Park movie, and for that reason it will always be one of my favorites. (Spoilers below.)

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Review: Princess Retribution by Elaine Tipping

(“A graphic novel” from the Reading Challenge)

I have enjoyed Elaine Tipping’s art and comics for quite some time, and her latest graphic novel, Princess Retribution, was a very welcome addition! As usual, the art was great, and I especially enjoy her character and clothing designs. Add to that the fact that there is a fun story to go with it, and I’m very glad I was able to contribute to her Kickstarter to support this book! (I’ll cut for minor spoilers.)

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Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

(“A book published this year” from the Reading Challenge)

So, this is technically a review of Shadow Scale, but out of necessity it will also talk about the preceding book Seraphina. Expect spoilers for both books!

I loved both Seraphina and Shadow Scale! Seraphina was one of my “grabbed it randomly off the library shelf because it looked interesting” finds that worked out well – I was hooked about ten pages in. They are set in a fantasy world in which two sentient species – humans and dragons – are struggling to coexist. The first book is set entirely in the country of Goredd, where forty years of uneasy peace between the humans and the dragons is teetering. Seraphina herself is a musician in Goredd’s court…and secretly a half-dragon. Continue reading

2015 Reading Challenge – Recommendations

So, I ran across the 2015 Reading Challenge which is going around the internet, and was intrigued by the list. I got a little ways into it and realized that I was mostly putting down things that I’ve already read, so here is a list of my recommendations based on the Challenge list! (With commentary, because I can.) I’ve tried to list a mix of things, with some stuff that is hopefully new to anyone who’s looking to do the Challenge. With a few necessary exceptions, the following books are ones that I, a) have read, and b) do actually recommend (I’ve stated if that’s not the case).

I plan to make a separate version of the list as a challenge for myself, with things that I haven’t read yet, but I doubt I’ll worry about trying to finish them all this year.


  • A book with more than 500 pages: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

This is one of my all-time favorites, and I definitely recommend that everyone read it for themselves. Whatever you think of Rand’s philosophy, there’s a lot of encouragement in her works for you to take a look at your own life and what you’d really like to get out of it, which I’ve always found very uplifting.

  • A classic romance: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

When I started this, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not, but I ended up loving it. Good story of two people overcoming initial bad impressions and misunderstandings and discovering that they are actually quite compatible. I like that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are honest enough to let their opinions change as they learn more about each other.

  • A book that became a movie: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember the book very well (as compared to the movie), but I have no strong memory of disliking it.

  • A book published this year: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

This is the sequel to Hartman’s first book, Seraphina, which I really enjoyed; one of those books where I was hooked ten pages in. Interesting take on a world where humans and dragons are in conflict with each other. I just requested this one from the library and will hopefully be able to read it shortly.

  • A book with a number in the title: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A classic, and definitely worth reading, though unfortunately one of those that I read once years ago and don’t remember too well now.

  • A book written by someone under 30: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I haven’t ever gotten to the rest of the series, but I definitely enjoyed this one.

  • A book with nonhuman characters: Raptor Red by Robert Bakker

If you have the slightest interest in dinosaurs, you should read this book. Part of me would say that you should read this book even if you have no interest in dinosaurs. More seriously, it’s a dinosaur book set in the Cretaceous Period, written by a paleontologist who knows his stuff. Not only does he make the character of Raptor Red sympathetic and believable, but he paints a rich, fascinating picture of the life and environment that she would have lived in. Another of my all-time favorites.

  • A funny book: Next of Kin by Eric Frank Russell

This is one of those books that made me cry because I was laughing so hard. I recommend pretty much all of Russell’s work, but this one is top-notch. If you’re looking for humor and sci-fi, this is a good one. Continue reading

Review: The Judge

The Judge stars Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. I went to see it back in October in large part because I like RDJ as Iron Man in the Marvel movies, but haven’t really seen him in many other things. I’ve also seen and enjoyed his Sherlock Holmes movies, but that’s about it.

In the broadest outline of its story, that of a prodigal son returning home, The Judge is not unique. In the details of the plot and the execution by the actors, however, I found it to be a very interesting and deeply emotional movie.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Henry (Hank) Palmer, a rich, successful and arrogant Chicago defense attorney. The movie starts with him being pulled away from his superficially perfect life by his mother’s death, bringing him for the first time in decades back to the small, rural Indiana town where he grew up.

There, he is greeted lovingly by his brothers, Glen and Dale, and almost as a stranger by his father, Joseph Palmer, who is the town’s judge. It is this estrangement from his father that has clearly kept Hank away all these years, and although he is happy to see his brothers, it is clear that even the single day of his mother’s funeral is too long to be back in his hometown. He packs up and heads out the next morning, in spite of his brothers’ clear desire for him to stay a bit longer. His father makes no effort to mend the breach, though, going so far as to mock Hank’s failing marriage and upcoming divorce. Although the judge is deeply grief-stricken over his own wife’s death and having a difficult time dealing with it, this is obviously meant to drive his middle son away again.

It nearly succeeds, for Hank is already waiting on the plane that will take him back to Chicago when he receives a call from his brother Glen. They had all noticed damage on their father’s much-loved car that morning, and it was Judge Palmer himself who drove it last, the night before just hours after his wife’s funeral. The damage turns out to have been from a hit-and-run involving another person, not merely property…and the person in question is dead.

In spite of everything, Hank returns, and fights his way through his father’s pride in an effort to both find out what actually happened the night of the funeral and to then defend his father in court. Further complications arise when it turns out that the dead man was one of the few poor judgments that Judge Palmer ever made; years earlier, he had given the man a lenient sentence, and a young woman ended up dead because of it. Was the hit-and-run truly an accident, or was it the town judge taking justice into his own hands? He claims to not remember what happened; is that a lie, or has something truly caused him to forget? What could be happening to him that he is unwilling to tell even his own sons?

I’ll be vague from here on in the interests of not spoiling the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. For me, the story ended up being one about the necessity of honesty and truth. Hank has not been honest with himself about his own life – he is not truly happy with his current position and failing marriage, with his young daughter being one of the only positive things he has. Opening himself to that truth paves the way for him to consider other options, other paths that might make him happier. Judge Palmer struggles with his pride and dignity, keeping back information vital to his own defense, and thereby setting himself up to receive a wrong sentence. He struggles in finding the strength to tell the truth, both in court and to his family. There are old issues and hurts between the three Palmer brothers that have been left unaddressed all the years that Hank was gone. There are other relationships that Hank walked away from so many years ago, that still lack understanding and closure.

As each of the characters begins to accept the truth about what has happened in the past, or is happening now, and as they start to be honest with each other, things start to improve. It is not an easy transition to make, and at times is quite painful. In spite of that all the characters, and especially Hank and his father, slowly come to realize that they are moving in a better direction. The movie ends on a bittersweet, but overall hopeful note, and I definitely enjoyed it.



Just finished watching How To Train Your Dragon 2 for the second time; I really meant to see it more than once in theaters, but at least it’s out on blu-ray now. I really, really love these movies, both the first one and this year’s sequel (and am immensely excited that it’s going to be a trilogy eventually). This isn’t a proper review so much as me rambling about that, so I’ll put the rest under a cut in case of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen them yet. (In which case, what is wrong with you, go watch them right now.) Continue reading

Review: Gettysburg

I just finished watching Gettysburg the other day, and it was both inspiring and sobering.

It’s one of the Civil War battles that I think we hear the most about superficially, but I realized in watching the movie that I really didn’t know any of the details of what happened over the course of those few days and why. The casualties on both sides totaled 53,000 men, making it the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil. But that number is even more sobering when you realize that if General Lee had actually paid attention to good strategy, the battle would never have happened at all. The Confederate Army was in a perfect position to turn and head towards Washington D.C., which would have forced the Union Army to follow, and would have given the Confederates time to find good, high ground to dig into and meet the Union forces from a stronger position. Instead, Lee decided that since they had already had a run-in with the Union forces at Gettysburg, it would be “cowardly” and “weaken the morale” of his men to turn and leave at that point. There was more “glory” and “honor” to be found in fighting from a weaker, downhill position…and on top of that, refusing to listen to the advice of his other generals (especially James Longstreet) to attack the sides and flanks of the Union forces, but instead sending 15,000 men directly up a wide, open slope against the center of the Union lines, where they could be slaughtered en masse by Union artillery fire.

There was a great deal of courage and bravery as well, and some very good leadership and decisions by some of the Union officers, but the staggering loss of life, and the sickening lack of necessity for it, is the thing that has really stuck with me. Writing a story about a war as I am, it’s an interesting topic, and I’m glad that I watched the movie. It helps to keep me aware, as a writer, about how the ideas and beliefs of leaders in a conflict have direct, life-or-death consequences for the people who must follow their orders. 53,000 is not just a number – it means that 53,000 individual, living, breathing human beings died at Gettysburg. I think that, in writing about war, that is the sort of thing that it is very good to keep in mind.

To go back to the movie itself, it is long (a bit more than 4 hours), but it is well done and I would definitely recommend it. A lot of Civil War reenactors were brought in for the battle scenes, which seemed realistic to me, and I liked the acting of all the major characters as well; one gets a good sense of their personalities. It is based on The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which is a fictional but (as I understand it) historically accurate account of the Battle of Gettysburg.