Royal Street

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RoyalStreet

As a Louisiana native, I have a special interest in books set in Louisiana.  So here’s a book that’s set in Louisiana, AND revolves around Hurricane Katrina, AND has magic and supernatural creatures.  This should be a smorgasbord of awesome, right?  Well, no.

The book starts off a couple of days before Hurricane Katrina makes landfall in New Orleans.  We meet DJ and Gerald, two wizards that basically police the supernatural community in Louisiana.  It’s decided that one of them should evacuate as a safety precaution, and Gerald, as the senior of the pair, decides DJ will be the one to evacuate.  She does so reluctantly, and then is stuck outside the city when Katrina hits and floods the city.  The wizard council of Elders contacts her, informs her that Gerald has gone missing, and that she has to return to New Orleans and take up the role as head wizard – aka sentinel – in the area.

Back in New Orleans, DJ encounters many problems.  The most obvious are the hurricane aftermath: security checkpoints, flooding, no electricity, etc.  But there is also supernatural trouble brewing.  The low pressure from the storm punched holes through the barrier between our world and the supernatural, and supernatural beings have started crossing into New Orleans.

The ghostly/undead pirate Jean Lafitte has a grudge against DJ.  The new partner assigned to her, Alex, seems to blow hot and cold and has an obsession with weapons.  DJ is trying to figure out what happened to Gerald, while both Alex and the Elders think he’s turned turncoat.  And DJ is an idiot.  No, seriously.  Her stupidity was one of my biggest gripes with the book.  I’ll go into detail in the Spoiler section.

Alex, Jean Lafitte, and Jake – Alex’s cousin – are all presented as interests to DJ.  She finds them all attractive, even the undead/ghost Jean Lafitte.  Even though Lafitte is old, a murderer, and doesn’t belong in our world according to the Elders. She’s defensive and mentally tags men as sexist, but she herself ogles and stereotypes guys herself.  Ultimately, she comes across as a stupid, hormone-driven teenage girl instead of an adult wizard in an import, respectable position.

It’s unfortunate that DJ is such an idiot lemming, because the rest of the book has so much potential that you can see the possible greatness, and almost forgive the author for making the hero someone you want to strangle; almost, but not quite.  The idea of supernatural and regular people living in two parallel realms, separated by a barrier that’s policed by wizards is a neat idea.  I like the idea of historical figures being powered by memory, and I like the the different factions of wizard magic/society.  Hurricane Katrina was handled respectfully, but even there potential was missed.

For me, the saving grace of the book was really the Louisiana setting and Hurricane Katrina.  I like that the setting mattered and was utilized, instead of being a story that could’ve been anywhere but just happened to be in New Orleans.  As I said, Hurricane Katrina was respectfully handled, and as I read those parts, I liked to think that they’d help non-locals reading the book to better understand what happened and how we felt.

In short, if you like stuff set in Louisiana and/or can tolerate nonsensical romantic elements, you may enjoy this book.  If you do not like stuff set in Louisiana and hate nonsensical romance, you may want to steer clear.

Rating: 5.5/10

SpoilerAlert

Jean Lafitte shows up at DJ’s house and attacks her.  He actually fires his gun at some point.  Later, DJ tries to insist that Lafitte wouldn’t have actually killed her, that she was more useful to him alive, or some such nonsense; to be honest, I didn’t pay much attention.  The reasoning given was dumb, and felt like an excuse by the author to make DJ’s ogling of someone that attacked her seem OK.  But it’s not.  It’s really not.  Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, after Lafitte attacks her and Alex makes it clear that she’s not very good at keeping herself alive, she sends Alex off on a wild goose chase so she can go confront Lafitte.  On his turf.  Surrounded by his men.  WTF?  At this point I was hoping someone would stab her with a sword, because she deserved it.

And Jake.  What the hell?  They don’t want to explain the whole magic/supernatural thing to him because they don’t “want to involve him,” but they sent the ghost of Louis Armstrong to live with him!  And naturally he charged into a dangerous situation, ignorant to the full danger thanks to DJ and Alex, and gotten bitten by a werewolf.  Bravo.  I hope DJ and Alex feel like asses.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie

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LifeWTZombie

I have lived in Louisiana my whole life.  I also like zombie stories, and the TV show iZombie.  So I found this book, which basically sounded like iZombie set in Louisiana, and I had to read it.  Had to.

Like iZombie, this book starts with a girl who is turned into a zombie after a tragedy.  Both characters get jobs in a morgue, both use the morgue to supply their new dietary requirements (brains), and both are only loosely what you’d call zombies.  From there, the differences become more apparent.  For example, a mysterious benefactor with connections gets the book’s main character, Angel, her morgue job.

Angel is a loser, and easily labeled as white trash, hence the title.  She dropped out of high school, has been fired from multiple jobs, lives in a trailer, has a pill problem, and has OD-ed once already.  Being turned into a zombie and being given the morgue job may be the best thing that’s ever happened to her, assuming she keeps it together.  And I mean that both in the figurative “don’t fuck things up” sense, and in the literal sense, because going too long without consuming brains means Angel starts rotting/falling apart.

I must stop here to say that calling Angel a zombie is a stretch.  I think Angel is to zombies as the Cullens from Twilight are to vampires.  The Cullens are “vampires” because they drink blood, but sunlight doesn’t hurt them, they’re not nocturnal, they don’t have to be invited into houses, and they can subsist on animal blood if need be.  Angel is a zombie because she needs to eat brains or will start rotting and become increasingly aggressive, but as long as she has a regular supply of brains, there’s little to tell her apart from regular humans.  In fact, being a zombie basically gives her superpowers: increased strength, healing rate, pain tolerance, nausea resistance, inability to get high/intoxicated, etc.  She is not the mindless, shambling, disease-ridden flesh-puppet most people think of when they hear the word “zombie.”

Assuming you can get past that, the book is pretty fun.  And no, don’t go thinking it’s another Twilight just because I mentioned it earlier.  The romance is a secondary element in the book at most.  In fact, most of the book is just about Angel getting used to life as a zombie, and trying to figure who turned her and why.  The mystery with the serial kills doesn’t start really playing a role until the second half or so of the book.

I like how the book takes a stereotype, applies it to the main character, and tries to get you to see it in a different light.  “White trash” is a term usually used to demean and/or laugh at someone.  The book uses it to a degree for entertainment, but not in a “ha ha, look at the redneck, isn’t it funny” sort of way.

It could’ve been better.  There were times I was like “really, you still haven’t figure out you’re a zombie?!” And ending was so neatly tied up that I couldn’t fully buy it without letting things slide.  Still, if you like “zombies” and/or Louisiana and aren’t too critical of books, you should have a fun time.

Rating: 7/10

SpoilerAlert

There’s a moment when a police cadaver dog tries to point out that technically Angel is a walking cadaver; I thought that was a clever scene.

The way everything fit together and tied up at the end felt a little too neat.  That guy had a zombie vendetta and killed multiple zombies already, but didn’t realize his BFF of several years was a zombie too?  That just seems too convenient, and arranged for the sake of the plot rather than actual logic.

The Thousand Names

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ThousandNames

I picked up this book for two reasons: it had good reviews, and one of the main characters is a woman who disguised herself as a man and joined the army.  The latter is reminiscent of Mulan, my favorite Disney “princess” movie – yes, I know she’s not technically a princess, but shh – so I had high expectations for the book.  It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it didn’t disappoint.

The basic story is a sort of colony/territory tension tale.  The territory is Khandar, and it is claimed by Vordanai.  People in Khandar are not all happy with being under Vordan control though, and some start to form a rebellion.  The Vordan army retreats to a small corner of Khandar until reinforcements arrive, and then they march out to squash the uprising.

Given that synopsis, you’d probably want to root for the rebellion.  However, the main characters of the story are all part of the Vordan army.  There’s the steadfast Captain Marcus d’Iovoire, who is loyal, reliable, and gallant, but a tad old-fashioned and not terribly creative.  Then there’s Winter Ihernglass, who starts as a foot soldier but gets promoted to a command position, which is a problem since Winter is a woman in disguise.  Last is Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, an odd but brilliant man who you want to like, but never fully trust.

Of the three, Marcus d’Ivoire was probably the least interesting.  But that doesn’t mean he’s un-interesting, just that Winter and Janus outshine him.  Marcus has both strengths and flaws, and provides a “normal” – aka male – soldier’s perspective.  His normal-ness and military experience also helps highlight how odd Janus is.

Winter.  Ah, Winter.  She’s Mulan with a musket.  Sort of.  She is Mulan in the sense that she’s a woman masquerading as a man in the army, but there are some key differences I’ll discuss in the Spoiler section.  She starts off a bit timid, but steps up to the challenge when promoted and grows into her role.  The book was a bit slow at first, but my desire to follow this particular character’s journey kept me interested.

Sadly Winter has no witty sidekick.

Sadly Winter has no witty sidekick.

Colonel Janus is young, intelligent, and seems to be something of a military prodigy.  As the book goes by, I experienced the odd conflict of growing to like him more, but not growing to trust him more.  He has a habit of keeping plans and information from his subordinates that couldn’t prove very problematic at some point, if not villainous.

Considering that this book revolved around an army fighting to regain control of a colony, the fighting felt very light.  Battles were not the protracted, exhausting, multi-chapter affairs one might expect from other books.  Instead they were almost more like highlight reels, and I was fine with that.  The fighting wasn’t meant to be the focus in this book – the three main characters are the focus – so it works.

Rating: 8.5/10

SpoilerAlert

One of the big differences between Winter and Mulan is that Winter is at least bisexual, possibly gay.  She doesn’t end up with Marcus or Janus, as one might expect from a YA book or Disney film, and in fact there’s a feeling that she may not hook up with a guy at all.

It also turns out that Winter is not the only woman in the army.  Bobby turns out to be a young woman too, and after she’s seriously injured, Winter convinces a magic user to heal her with a magic ritual.  The ritual has lingering side effects, like oddly colors skin at the site of the wound, and there’s a hint that Bobby could be destined for great things, or to help Winter to do great things.  I hope this is examined in the next book.

2015 Chevy Cruze

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Someone rear-ended my poor Tardis – that is what I named my blue, 2015 Honda Fit – so I had a rental car for a little while as my car was repaired.  I was given a 2015 Chevy Cruze rental and decided to do a quick review.

Comparisons = The main cars I will be comparing it against are those I have the most experience driving: 1992 Honda Accord, 2014 Mazda3 iSport (referred to as “M3” – review), and 2015 Honda Fit LX (review).  Note that I do NOT know what trim level my rental car was.

Bias =  First, the variety of cars I’ve driven is obviously limited.  Second, I am a single, child-free woman, and most of my driving consists of commuting to work and running errands around town; therefore, I don’t care about sportiness, and I’m not particularly concerned about passenger room/comfort.  Last but certainly not least, I only had this car for 10 days and did not drive it every day.

The Awesome:
Cargo/Trunk = The trunk on this sedan car is quite spacious.  It doesn’t match the sheer potential capacity of the Fit, but that’s not a fair comparison since the Fit is a hatchback.  Compared to the M3 sedan, the Cruze is the definite winner in terms of cargo/trunk room.

Tire Pressure Monitoring =  I liked this so much, I felt it deserved it’s own point.  Both the Fit and M3 only have a warning light that lights up on the dashboard if it senses a low tire, but it doesn’t tell you which tire is low, or how low it is.  The Cruze’s monitoring system has an info screen with a diagram of the car, with a PSI listed next to each tire.  In theory, this should tell you exactly which tire has what PSI.  It doesn’t quite work – the tires on the info screen in my rental were backwards/mislabeled – but the PSI readings seem to be fairly accurate, and seeing the individual numbers is a very useful tool.

The Good:
Tech Features = Cruise control and adjustable intermittent windshield wiper speeds; nice.  I didn’t pay much attention to the buttons on the rear view mirror, but it looked like it had OnStar and a couple other things.  There are a lot of buttons and a fairly large screen in the central control area, so there may be other features I didn’t discover in the week I had it.

Roominess = There’s a lot of room in this car.  The back seats didn’t look cramped and the driver area seemed to have plenty of leg room.

Seats = Not as cushy as some, but still a good level of padding.  The headrests are mercifully at a somewhat normal angle, unlike the M3’s painful contraptions. It lacks lumbar support, but that’s true of the Fit and the M3 too, especially when you adjust the M3’s seats to compensate for the terrible headrest.

Handling = The gas pedal felt nice; it didn’t have the delay/slow start like Nissans, or even the M3 had to a lesser extent.  The breaks felt nice, road noise seemed better than the Fit and maybe better than the M3.  Good overall as far as pedal feel and driving.

The Bad:
Backup Camera = It doesn’t have one.  Most 2015 model cars have backup cameras, so it’s odd that the Cruze doesn’t have one.

Button/Center Stack Layout = Some things were in some odd places.  None of the sticks on the steering column control the headlights.  Instead, the headlights are controlled by a knob under the air-conditioning vent to the driver’s left.  The button to pop the trunk is located in the center stack towards the bottom, which seemed like an odd place, and the center stack in general seemed busy/cluttered.

USB? = I found one USB port in the center armrest (which doesn’t actually function as an armrest).  I didn’t do a thorough search, but I didn’t see any other USB ports.  If a car is going to have only one USB port, I think the port should either be at the bottom of the center stack, or the armrest should be big enough to fit a large iPod or smart phone inside and be able close with it plugged in.

Front Cup Holders = The cup holders between the driver and passenger were position so that I was reaching roughly to the side of my thigh, which is towards the edge of my peripheral vision while driving.  It would’ve been better if they could’ve been position further forward.

The Ugly:
I did not find anything that would qualify as “Ugly.”  However, I only drove the car for about a week; it took longer for the “Ugly” traits to be noticeable in both the M3 and the Fit.

Overall, did I like this car?  Yes.  I think it’s at least worth a look.

Inside Out

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InsideOut

Pixar to me is synonymous with animated “kid” movies with a surprising amount of depth.  You know, movies like Wall-e and Up; kids will enjoy the animation and basic story, but the full emotional depth will only be grasped by adults.  Inside Out is a new film to add to that list.

The idea is that people’s emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust – are personified and influence/control their actions from a control room in the brain.  Riley is the main [human] character the movie follows, and she is dealing with moving to a new state and the emotional upheaval it entails.  Joy is the lead emotion, normally in charge of the control room, but after a mishap she and Sadness end up outside of the control room and must navigate their way through the Riley’s mind and find their way back.  Meanwhile, it’s up to Anger, Fear, and Disgust to keep things running.

Guess what?  I liked this movie, and I liked it a lot.  My inner child appreciated the bright colors and other visual eye candy.  I liked how even the less-developed emotions still had some depth to them and were not completely one-note.  I liked the casting; Lewis Black as Anger was a perfect call, but Phyllis Smith’s Sadness was the surprising stand-out.

The mechanics of how the mind-world worked were probably my favorite part.  It was very clever, and it’s obvious that a lot of time and thought went into it.  As you watch it, chances are you’ll go, “Yeah, that is how it would work.”  You’ll probably wonder how your mind world would look, and after the movie you’ll end up talking about you own emotions like “My road rage and allergy to stupidity must mean Anger is in charge.”

This was a fun, surprisingly smart movie.  Even though I appreciated the message of Up, I actually would rank Inside Out above Up as it has less of the bittersweet feelings , but still had emotional depth.  I’d recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Rating: 9.5/10