February has been a grim slog of snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. I’ve had to call a friend twice this week to help push my car in to or out of my driveway. Hope you all are staying warm and making it through OK.
How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I love the first two films in this series and think Hidden World was pretty great. I didn’t find the story to be quite as strong as the other installments (it meanders a bit with some odd choices) and the finale was oddly anticlimactic, but when things worked they worked well. Did I have tears pouring down my face at the end? Yes. Yes I did. It is also worth mentioning how incredible the animation is; the details, physical mannerisms, and lighting really stood out. I remain disappointed that Astrid is mostly relegated to the role of cheerleader (no character development but plenty of scenes where she gets to remind Hiccup that he is the best), but that has been a problem through the entire series.
God of War 4
I can’t think of many video game characters I dislike more than Kratos, the “hero” of the God of War games. He ranks right up there with Duke Nukem in utter awfulness. So when this game was announced, I was not at all interested. Yet everyone I talked to said it was really good and that my loathing of Kratos would actually add to my experience playing the game. So I gave it a go…and I loved it? Boy howdy I was surprised. Kratos’ bloody rampages from the previous games are no longer framed as “RAD!” but as bad and shameful. Because of how the character was established in God of War 1-3, you spend every minute of God of War 4 hoping that Kratos doesn’t impart his violence onto his very kind, impressionable son. It made for some very effective tension and an unexpected commentary on toxic masculinity. There was one major story beat that really didn’t work for me (it seemed like the developers maybe ran out of time and rushed things), but overall I found the story, setting, and gameplay to be thoroughly engrossing. There is going to be a Jormungandr collage in my upcoming solo show, thanks to God of War 4.
The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)
The Song of Achilles is a re-imagining of the famous hero’s life, told from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles’ companion and, in this interpretation, his lover and dearest friend. Since the book is based on established mythology, you know from the start how things will end. That could have been a hinderance but I felt it added to emotional weight of the novel. I really like how Madeline Miller weaves the mythology and original story together, making things matter more because they have backstory and depth. Since this novel is based on Greek myths, the female characters in particular do not fare well. But I think Miller did her best to try and at least give these women dimension and motivation. The Song of Achilles was lovely and sad and I’m glad I read it. It’s also a good reminder of how utterly upsetting the Trojan War story is.
Any Old Diamonds (K.J. Charles)
I am always excited when a new KJ Charles book comes along. Any Old Diamonds follows an illustrator (and disowned son of a Duke) who enlists the help of a jewel thief to exact revenge against his horrible father and equally horribly step-mother. I loved the romance that grew between these two characters and the twisty trajectory of the story as more history and secrets were revealed. A soul-soothing comfort book. K.J. Charles remains one of my favorite romance writers.
Fall (Kristen Callihan)
While I found the first two books in Kristen Callihan’s rock star romance VIP series (Idol, Managed) to be fine but not particularly memorable, I quite liked book 3 (Fall). The first two stories include a lot of genre tropes that annoyed me: cringey meet-cutes that would be sexual harassment or dangerous situations in any other setting, heroines that are weirdly underdeveloped and feel the need to remind us that they aren’t “model pretty”, and relationship “ending” fights completely reliant on misunderstandings that could have been easily explained. Despite including some of these same elements, I found myself far more involved in Fall’s characters and story. The book follows a famous rock musician who is dealing with serious mental health issues (depression, attempted suicide) and a young woman, raised by a grifter, who is at a crossroads in her life. I think these heavy themes were handled respectfully and the big third act conflict was much more organic and fitting for the characters. Despite my complaints, if you enjoy this romance genre and want to check out the VIP series, you should start with Idol (book 1).
Dark Needs at Night’s Edge (Kresley Cole)
I’m including Dark Needs in my favorites list more for the setting than for the book itself. With some notable exceptions, I’m not usually a fan of supernatural alpha male romances. I tend to find those sorts of heroes teeth-grititngly boring and/or frustratingly stuck in archaic gender roles. That is mostly the case for this book as well, but what I did like was the larger supernatural world and monster lore of the Immortals After Dark series. Plus, many of the heroines in these books are paranormal themselves (witches, valkyries, etc) which is kind of unusual. The female lead in Dark Needs is the ghost of a ballerina who was murdered in the 20s. Ghost plus vampire romance? I hadn’t read that before. For some damn reason I started the series with book 5, and even though I found the romance and story to be kind of meh, I might come back to this series out of curiosity about the other monsters and characters.
The biggest February art news? I have a new website! Which you probably noticed, since you are here. Other notable goings-on includes a new long-form start-to-finish process video that went up on my Patreon page, and new giclee prints of “Milk Snake” and “Laputa” which will be available in my Etsy shop tomorrow (March 1). Ok, that second one is technically March news, but whatevs.