Saturday, November 12, 2016

Between Books - Aftermath: Life Debt

Among the things I was not looking forward to among all of Disney's new Star Wars offerings was another Aftermath book.  So it was with great hesitation I borrowed, not bought, Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig.  Because honestly, I could not have any lower expectations!

Wendig throws his readers early into the action. We join Norra Wexley and her band of Rebels (or New Republic commandos), comprised of surviving characters from the last book, as they serve as an extraction team.  They find, kidnap and extract Imperial war criminals so they can be tried for their atrocities by the New Republic.  However, the actions of others pull her into a different story. Princess Leia calls upon Wexley and her crew to find and return another type of scoundrel. Her husband Han Solo has gone missing. His partner Chewbacca was captured in an attempt by the pair to organize an attack to free the  Wookie's home world Kashyyyk from Imperial control.  Solo refuses to come home until he can recover his partner despite his wife's pregnancy.  But do Wexley's actions fill the needs of the New Republic or the Imperial remnant and its leader Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and her secret advisor?  And can you team survive the strain of the twists and turns of this adventure?

Let me just jump to the big reveal, and that's not the home world of the Imperial secret advisor!  I loved Aftermath: Life Debt.  It started hard for me, as I could not remember who all these new heroes from the first book was.  So watching a group I did not really know extract an unknown to me villian in a new to me setting, I was a little lost. But within the first 30 pages it turned quickly for me. I began to identify and feel for Norra's band.  I found I cared for this group, their emotions and what was going to happen to them.  The group is largely a team of dubious personalities, so just the question if how do former bounty hunters and imperials move forward within the New Republic was fascinating.  And unlike Bloodlines, it had just enough politics. I t is close enough to the Rebellion we see how Leia struggles with the new politically correct structure the New Republic is becoming. That is even more interesting and helps advance Leia closer to the Resistance intellectually more then the actions of Bloodline.  And Wendig makes me care about the politics outlined in this book as the New Republic debates what can they do for Kashyyyk, a work full of Wookies that I do care about. 

In the first book of the trilogy Wendig touched briefly on classic Star Wars heroes.   In this volume he goes all in. And so we get Han Solo...and a lot of him.  And it is the Solo we want and hope from, a lovable scoundrel. Wendig does a nice job highlighting the Solo/Chewbacca relationship, even when the Wookie is not there.  He makes it clear the Chewbacca is not a sidekick or pet. Chewbacca is an equal partner!  And the descriptions of this relationship really further cement how I feel about this dynamic pair.

But that's not to say I do not care about the new heroes.  Norra is a good examples.  She's a former Rebel, a soldiers, a mother to the future Snap Wexley, a wife to a missing husband and more.  I care about her future and her relationships with not just her team but also her family and potential love interests.  And honestly I could not say that after the first book!

I really enjoyed Aftermath: Life Debt. I do not always recommend many Star Wars books bases on plot and writing. This however is one I fully recommend!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Between Books - Designing Disney's Theme Parks

I have heard a lot about Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance edited by Karal Ann Marling over the years.  Honestly, I've often understood it to be next to John Hench's Designing Disney as a classic of the field.  So when I found a used copy of Designing Disney's Theme Parks I knew it had to find it a spot in the Between Library.

Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance edited by Karal Ann Marling serves as a companion to an exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in the 1990s.  As such, the book is focused heavy on design.  The text includes articles on Imagineers as artists by Marty Sklar, design, Disneyland and culture and setting.  The essays are surrounded by the many images including design sketches, model pictures and images of the park in action.  Overall the general theme stresses the importance of understanding design in Disney Theme Parks and learning from them in other projects.

Honestly, I do not believe that Designing Disney's Theme Parks will be a go to book for me.  The book does a good job of discussing design.  But a lot has changed since the 1990s.  The images includes many that at publication date would have likely been new to the reader, but today they have been published in numerous other books.  But the difference between this volume and more recent is accessibility.  This text really speaks to designers, and converses to them as professionals.  Other offerings have a more general audience, speaking to many different fields.  Additionally, I had hoped that a major theme of Designing Disney's Theme Parks would be movement.  Honestly this is touched on but not empathized to the level I had expected from other commentators.  Perhaps that fact this is a collection hindered the ability for it to maintain the consistent theme.

Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance edited by Karal Ann Marling is an important Between Book.  It served as a predecessor for many of the design books that we have now, using pictures to help tell the Disney story.  Hard-core Disney history fans need this volume.  However, more casual readers may want to seek out a less technical book.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Cap's Comics - Haunted Mansion #3

Haunted Mansion #3 helps to establish our villain’s motivations.  As the story opens it becomes clear that the Captain is after one thing, treasure.  The Captain has searched the mansion from almost top to bottom and cannot find this pirate booty.  There is only one place he cannot go where it might be hidden, and he will need help to enter that area.  Therefore he attempts to retrieve Danny from the endless party!  But as the party finally ends a new character intercepts our mortal hero, the Hatbox Ghost.  The Hatbox Ghost takes Danny on a spiritual and physical tour through the castle.  And the abrupt ending of this tour results in hard truths for Danny.  The other villain, Constance is depicted solely as motivated by murder!  With Danny now facing the reality of his situation, will be become a victim to the Captain or Constance?  Can he find the bravery he needs to move on in the Haunted Mansion?

John Tyler Christopher Variant Cover

Joshua Williamson really seems to be writing this story for Haunted Mansion fans.  And the inclusion of the Hatbox Ghost really works to prove my point.  The Hatbox Ghost becomes a mentor, somewhat of the non-specific Yoda model.  And he leaves us with more questions than answers.  The big thrill for Mansion fans is the Hatbox Ghost’s and other denizens noting that Hatbox was gone but has just recently returned.  It feels like a literally tribute to the original appearance to this legendary ghost when the Mansion opened and his recent return.  And Jorge Coehlo’s art continues to present the Mansion’s citizens in a familiar an non-scary way that the Between Kid can enjoy.  

Brian Crosby Variant Cover

At this point I am seeing the Haunted Mansion Disney Kingdoms as a safe story.  In fact safe is the word I used in my last review.  It has a beloved Disney Parks attraction at its center.  And the creative team is making sure to hit the fan needed notes to make sure fans are seeing what they most want with the Hatbox Ghost being a great example.  And the story is not too scary, making it All-Ages friendly.  Honestly, safe here may be another way to say success as while no one may be completely over the moon about the material but it is still something most readers can and will enjoy.  

Second Printing Variant Cover

Monday, September 26, 2016

Between Books - Brittany Earns Her Ears

Brittany Earns Her Ears: My Secret Walt Disney World Cast Member Diary by Brittany DiCologero is the fifth installment in the "Earning Your Ears" series.  DiCologero follows the basic outline of these journals.  The author discusses why she chose to enter the Disney College Program, the application process, Disney College Program life, and her job as a merchandise cast member in Fall 2014.  She concludes the volume with reflection of her time in the program. 

Again, this volume follows the basic outline of "Earning Your Ears" books.  And this allows a reader to come to understand this specific cast members decision about entering the program and navigating the process.  In this case, I found myself "routing" for Brittany since we are both history majors.  And I believe that if I was a young adult I would likely gravitate towards this volume thanks to our shared academic interests.  I can also see myself gravitating towards this volume since Brittany discusses maintaining and supporting a long distance relationship which would have been close to my own situation at that age.  I can see the value to readers of these types of books if one feels the author is like me.

DiCologero along with the typical topics calls out advantages to program participation.  This includes Disney discounts, typically deeper discounts than found at retail jobs.  Also she participated in educational experiences, giving this history major the most interesting business course she ever completed.  And of course, she calls out the fundamental truth...Animal Kingdom is hot!

Brittany Earns Her Ears is another well-written contribution to understanding and preparing for the Disney College Program.  Like all of these volumes, some will resonate better to others with readers due to experiences and common personality traits.  The series is one that should be examined by all potential College Program participants.    

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Between Books - Drinking at Disney

As I drink Cherry Pepsi from my Tervis cup and write this review, it seems so empty.  It feels as if my Texas Flag decorated Tervis given to me after being found in a supply closest should hold something with more octane.  And perhaps me and that the cup should be staring longingly at a forbidden bay as I seek a way to convince a cast member to give me and my Tervis entry!

Drinking at Disney: A Tipsy Travel Guide to Walt Disney World’s Bars, Lounges & Glow Cubes by Rhiannon and Drunky provides what is advertised, a description and rating of every bar and cart serving booze in Walt Disney World.  Drunky uses his vast research and knowledge of Disney drinking to provide his readers a location by location summary of drinking on property.  This includes his own creative maps of where to find one’s desired adult drink.  For each bar, lounge, and drink cart Drunky gives information about the menu, a rating of value, location, theme, vibe, and evaluation of the location. Ratings are delivered in terms of how many Tervis tumblers the bar earned, Drunky’s to go cup of choice.  Often Drunky gets things slightly askew ,or just plain wrong, so his editor Rhiannon jumps in to point out his errors on theming, his need to give additional love to pool bars (why) and pointing out drinks that do not end with Lite.  The pages are all vibrantly colored and illustrated making reviews fun, especially since the give and take between Drunky and Rhiannon is amusing.  Though I will admit I jump quickly between whose side I am on.   After the reviews the authors provides more value with pub crawls, strategies for drinking around the world (which are actually good safety thoughts) and lists of some of the best and worst bars in Walt Disney World.

I loved Drinking at Disney.  The read was really fun and the bickering between the author and editor is a great mix of dirty jokes and friend humor that made me feel like I was sitting on a bar stool.  And I think for someone who lives in Betweenland it had a twofold effect.  First, I found myself longing for a new Disney experience type.  Yes, I think in my previous visits to Walt Disney World I have not taken adult beverages enough into account, okay I am pretty much about the Between Kids on my trips.  But it is possible to enjoy some of these experiences without becoming Drunky and still being a responsible parent.  Second, I wish I had this book before my last trip.  Then perhaps I would not have regretted my trip to the Brown Derby Lounge, though we were there for a food item.  I would also not be regretting not hitting up my local pool bar, an actual decent pool bar!  I can also think of non-Disney addicted friends who this book would be a good resource for as they plan out a less child focused trip than I typically plan out.  Yes, I probably would not have left the Between Kid to stake my claim to a stool at Muddy Waters.  But regrets do hurt.

Drinking at Disney: A Tipsy Travel Guide to Walt Disney World’s Bars, Lounges & Glow Cubes is an essential book we never knew we needed.  It is fun and informative.  While I would likely never put the large sized physical edition in a suitcase of backpack, I would study it carefully before future trips back to Walt Disney World.  

Sorry Rhiannon, I love my craft beer.  But sometimes a Bud Lite and Merica does beat Abita! 

Review Copy Provided For Purposes of Review


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cap's Comics - Haunted Mansion #2

Haunted Mansion #2 picks up Danny’s story as he attempts to save his grandfather from the villains within the mansion.  Readers meet some instantly likeable characters and get a vision of the villains within the mansion.  And we ask the big question, will the party ever end?

Danny charges into the castle to save his beloved grandfather’s soul.  Danny after entry meets Pickwick at the banquet hall the grand party that is taking place.  Pickwick loves this party and seems at times to forget the peril his soul is in.  And Danny appears to be picking up this attitude, making us worry if Danny will overlook his own quest.  Readers also meet the villains of the mansion.  The Captain, a soul trapped on land, appears to be the big bad that has trapped the souls within the mansion.  But it is Constance that even scares him and leaves the mansion’s denizens headless!  Is Danny now in the Captain’s sight?  Can he evade Constance?  And most of all, where’s Grandpa?

John Tyler Christopher Action Figure Variant

Joshua Williamson makes the story choice that Disney fans need him to.  He makes both the Captain and Constance, two villains filled with canon and head canon references, the villains of his tale.  In many ways he is reconciling the story needs of adult Haunted Mansion fans.  Someone would have been unhappy with either choice.  So he has gone with both.  And while neither side may be entirely happy, well the story is for kids and both villains seem to be serving story purposes.  

Brian Crosby Variant Cover

The real highlight for me is the banquet.  Jorge Coehlo gets to draw a party, one which never ends.  His panels are full of the images that fans expect and require.  And Pickwick at the party is quickly becoming my favorite fun loving though misguided character.  

Disney Parks Variant

Haunted Mansion #2 is a safe story giving readers what they expect if they are also Parks fans.  It has the payoffs you want.   It still also has the ability to touch the heart as I was deeply impacted by Grandpa’s reason for being in the mansion.  And needless to say I am still going forward!     

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Between Books - Amazing Fantastic Incredible

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee, Peter David and Colleen Doran allows Stan Lee to narrate the story of his life through the literary style he revolutionized… comics.  Lee tells the tale of being a boy who loved to read and lose himself in the adventures of books.  The Lieber home, as Stan Lee was born Stanley Lieber, was one of contrasts as his mother believed Stanley could do and be anything while his father appeared to be constantly searching for success in supporting his family.   Stanley dreamed of growing up to be a writer thanks to his love of reading.  Lieber got his first serious break by becoming an assistant at Timely Comics where he worked with editor Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby.  Eventually publisher Martin Goodman would put Lieber over all comics, with Simon and Kirby leaving the company.  After military service in World War II, Lee would return to comics and find himself a wife in Joan Boocock.  Lee would find himself in the 1960’s dissatisfied with comics and with the encouragement of Joan would attempt to write one more story but in his own style, leading to the creation of The Fantastic Four with Jack Kirby.  His new story was under the name Stan Lee so he could use his real name for real writing.  This success would be followed by others as Lee created heroes with real problems like Spider-Man, the Hulk and even a God with Thor.  From here, Lee would publicize and grow comics and superhero stories, eventually leading to his numerous cinematic cameos.  

I found myself quite surprised with Amazing Fantastic Incredible.  Lee is a very positive and large personality in his public image.  And Lee in the memoir’s narrative is generally positive and large.  And while he does not forget to pat his own back, he also greatly praises the work of others including Jack Kirby who in the text and art is virtually made a saint.  Lee does not pull back from potential disagreements.  Well actually he does.  He notes and discusses disagreements with Kirby, Steve Dikto and even his brother Larry Lieber.  But while he acknowledges them, he neither attacks the other parties nor defends himself.  Again, while Jack Kirby before his death may have held resentment towards Lee for the credit he received publicly versus himself, Lee puts Kirby on a pedestal.  Another example of how he treats uncomfortable topics is the death of his second daughter.  Lee mentions it and then the comic format allows us to understand how the event made him feel.   And really it is interesting to see Lee’s life played out in comics.  It allows the read to be quick yet informative.  The format really worked much better than I thought.  And it was more than a hooray for Stan autobiography.    
I would suggest comic fans at least borrow Amazing Fantastic Incredible.  I did borrow as the $30 list price is to rich for my blood for the breezy read one gets.  While the memoir is far from groundbreaking or deep, it is fun and enjoyable.  In the end it is a nice use of the format without too much text and good use of images to help convey emotion and story.