“Eight Cousins” by Louisa May Alcott

"Eight Cousins" by Louisa May Alcott — Kimia Wood My tattered paperback attests that this simple classic was my absolute favorite book at the age of twelve.

Revisiting it a full fifteen years later not only brings fresh perspective on the situations and characters I once adored, but confirms that this “Young Adult” novel is one for the ages!

Seven Boys and a Girl

Rose Campbell has recently lost her father, and so is forced to move in with her great-aunts on the “Aunt Hill,” where the whole of her large extended family is eager to meet her.

But all seven of her cousins are boys! Oh, what is a poor, sheltered little flower to do?

Worst of all, when her new guardian – her uncle Dr. Alec – shows up, he turns out to be so eccentric that he wants her to run (the un-lady-like horror)…to wear loose-fitting scarves and dresses of bright colors (not the belt that held in her petite waist)…to eat plenty of healthy, wholesome food…to work with her hands…and overall to fill out her small frame, rosy up her cheeks, and draw her out of herself so that she can become the healthy, confident, caring young woman she was meant to be. Continue reading

“My Hero Academia” (Seasons 1 thru 4)

"My Hero Academia" (Seasons 1 thru 4) — Kimia Wood In a superhuman society, these kids work hard to one day use their abilities as Heroes.

Anime has opened up a new world for me. After hearing My Hero Academia hyped enough on the internet, we checked it out…and, well, it made it onto my list of 27 things I like best.

The themes, world-building, and characterization are astounding, and the arcs they take the characters on are impressive, too. It’s not perfect – some story-telling choices are sloppy, and the main lead is insufferable at times – but it’s still incredible…and with only a few caveats, I can recommend it to everyone (even my mom, though she’s not into shonen).

(Note: I am only reviewing the anime…not the manga, any of the movies, or the video game – because, yeah, apparently there’s a video game. Who knew?)

The Super-Charged Cast

MHA accomplishes the remarkable feat of creating a large cast where each member is memorable, and has their own personality.

At the beginning, there are, say, four or five stand-outs that serve as our “power trio” (I know the math doesn’t come out – work with me), while the rest of the first-year class is a blur of unpronounceable Japanese names.

But after a season or two, every single member of the class has had a chance to shine…to display a personality quirk, reveal depth of character, or establish a stable relationship dynamic for us to remember them by.

Let’s start at the top.

Whiny Green-hair

Our young heroic protagonist is Deku, a boy born without a Quirk – this universe’s term for the unique superpower that 80% of the population is born with.

These abilities range from having a big tail, to being invisible, to cancelling gravity on things you touch, to shooting explosions with your hands.

But Deku was born without any Quirk. He still dreamed of being a great hero like his idol All-Might (the Number 1 professional hero – “saving everyone with a big smile”), and when the inciting incident gives him a Quirk, he enrolls in “hero high school” to train his abilities and join an agency one day.

Why did we give him the nickname “Whiny Green-hair” before we could remember his Japanese name?

Uah…He’s one of the three problems with the show.

Deku is earnest and selfless…but he’s also one big bundle of insecurities. Raised by a single mom and used to being the underdog, he’s a wheezy nerd who has indulged his hero fandom by analyzing fighting styles and brainstorming new ways for others to use their Quirks.

But all that means he tends to over-think things, and almost every encounter involves him mumbling to himself in a frenzy of anxiety.

Sure, it’s realistic considering his age, his upbringing, and his personality…but that doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying when he wastes time wondering whether he can succeed instead of mapping out ways to succeed.

The first season is practically drowning in his angsty internal monologue…and my dad says the voice actor they got for the English dub is grating. (I guess his voice does have a tendency to squeak and whine — couldn’t they have gotten someone who’d already hit puberty?)

All that said…

What saves Deku (and the show) is the way he changes. As Deku grows and stretches his abilities, we see how his obsession with studying others and their abilities makes him a better team leader – better able to use the talents of his fellow students to get them out of situations.

Not only does he gain more confidence, but he’s forced to leave behind the weepy, abasing personality bit by bit. He’s still not a battle-hardened chill-dude who does what needs to be done without dithering…but he is a driven hero-in-training whose determination to help others is matched by the spine to stand up to opponents.

He cries way less than he did earlier, and he’s a much faster thinker in combat than he used to be.

And this willingness to take their characters’ personality crutches and rip them away is what raises MHA above the rest.

Speaking of which…

Lord Explosion Murder

Deku’s childhood best enemy is a Class A jerk, braggart, and violent borderline-psychopath. (The second problem with the show.)

His name is Bakugo, but when the class is coming up with Hero names for themselves, one of his attempts is “Lord Explosion Murder.”

His Quirk is nitroglycerin-like sweat that lets him fire explosions from his palms, and since his Quirk manifested about age four, he’s been praised and doted on for being so strong.

This twisted into an inferiority complex/imposter syndrome that displayed itself in Bakugo being a toxic bully to everyone – but especially to Deku, who somehow thought they were friends and that it was his own responsibility to reach out to Bakugo and “fix” their dynamic.

Well, a full discussion is probably beyond the scope of this review…so let me explain why this walking bomb doesn’t derail the entire show.

Well…he does get on my nerves…

But he also gets a slow, painful, subtle, yet powerful character arc.

TV shows are often high-lighted for their ability to tell long, drawn-out stories with more subtlety and depth than a short movie could squeeze in. MHA has used this strength on Bakugo.

Throughout the show, his hair-trigger temper and verbal threats of actual bodily harm make you wonder why he isn’t in a straight-jacket. Are the teachers and other adults in the show as idiotic as Deku? Sure, Bakugo is attending the Hero course, but his self-centeredness, pride, and domineering personality paint him as more of a Villain.

Then…you see the mastery of the delicate brush.

Bakugo builds friendships with people who are not Deku…and through clashes with villains, tests for school, and other plot arcs he is forced to realize his abrasive habit of lashing out is not who he actually wants to be.

Unlike Deku, he doesn’t prattle on in internal monologue, telling us exactly what he thinks about himself and why. However, just as much can be achieved with a few terse lines of dialogue, a few facial expressions, and the way Bakugo interacts with people who are not Deku.

Time will tell where he ends up…but the mere fact that he’s not allowed to be “the bully character no one feels bad for” but forced by the story to grow and change is…well, it’s why MHA is 100 times better than Avatar YES I SAID IT.

Adults Actually Adulting

MHA doesn’t just force the child characters to grow up and get spines, self-control, perspective, etc.

It has Adult characters that actually behave Grown Up!

The teachers are the most obvious example.

They aren’t just token adults to let the kids interact with no oversight or input. Oh, no.

These teachers actually know their jobs…their jobs being – not only to push the kids past the limits of their Quirks and make them effective fighters, but also – to forge the characters of the students into mature, thoughtful, other-focused, quick-thinking, big-picture Heroes.

My favorite is Mr.…er, his Hero name is Eraser-Head. His Quirk is the ability to cancel out the Quirk of anyone he stares at – until he blinks. This makes him a perfect choice for training students who are still getting a hold of their powers.

But he’s also brutally hard-core. He himself is a beast of a fighter, but he’s also ruthless in pushing his students to do their best. Several times, they come within an inch of being expelled because, after all, if they don’t have the mind-set to learn, adapt, and push themselves…then they’re wasting their time trying to become Heroes.

All-Might is the Number 1 Hero – the self-proclaimed “Symbol of Peace” – and Deku’s childhood idol. But he’s also joined the faculty at their Hero school, so he becomes a vital character of the show.

He’s not a one-note paragon, though. He has doubts, and weaknesses. As the show progresses, we see more and more of his back-story and struggles, and get a sense that even the grown-ups have things they can’t handle.

Though he has a special mentor relationship with Deku, he has made an impact on every character in the universe – from the students, from the Heroes who worked with him, to the villains, to the street-crawling thugs. His towering personality adds complexion and depth to a million other characters and relationships because of how each person views him – and his ambition to give civilians a “Symbol of Peace” to take comfort in.

"My Hero Academia" (Seasons 1 thru 4) — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Dualshockers.com

Everyone gets fleshed out.

Ally or antagonist – policemen, teachers, parents, villains, or dudes – everyone gets the extra brushstrokes to turn them from a talking head into a person with their own agendas and desires.

What’s more, the majority of the students are mature, quick-thinking, hard-working, cool-headed, and focused on the end goal of becoming Heroes who help others.

In fact, one of the reasons Lord Explosion Murder is sufferable is that he’s actually pretty intelligent – good at summing up a situation and seeing what needs to be done from a big-picture standpoint – and then actually doing what needs to be done – even if he’s grumpy about it and pretends he’s not really doing it for the good of those around him.

Whenever a side character gets a chance at the spotlight and we see some more depth and maturity to their personality, I giggle in sheer glee.

Finally, as of Season 4, the parents and teachers are firmly on the side of the students – backing them up, shielding them, and forcing them to grow so that they’ll be strong enough for the trials ahead.

In short, being real, big-boy-pants, dithering-free Grown-Ups. I love it.

Once Upon a Time: Quirks, All Over the Place

My Hero Academia is vaguely set in our world, far-future…so the occasional reference to real geography or literature pops up.

However, now there are superpowers…in fact, a majority of the population has superpowers.

While plenty of Quirks seem basically the same (during the school’s fight tournament, two students are frustrated to find their Quirks are essentially re-skinned copies of each other), there’s enough flex within the abilities of each individual to make each character stand out.

First, the World

Human beings are twisted, selfish beings. When you randomly sprinkle superpowers onto them, you’re going to get villains.

The world seems to be pretty stable right now (from the perspective of our teen protagonists), but it becomes clear that this is the work of All-Might (Earth’s mightiest hero, etc.).

In the past, super-villains ran free in the streets – and even now, the government-sanctioned Hero Agencies fight a constant battle against street thugs and organized crime.

And that’s not even counting the villains slowly emerging from the shadows, who’d like nothing more than to see the world burn.

It’s also pretty realistic that using Quirks without a Hero license is outlawed.

While I’m personally all about self-defense and letting the man-on-the-street defend himself, there are also some examples of why it’s a good thing there are designated “do-gooders” to help those in need.

After all, with so many crazy abilities in the world, physics itself could get pretty unpredictable pretty quickly.

Speaking of Crazy Abilities…

There are 20 students in Deku’s class. There’s also a second Hero Course class, not to mention all the teachers, the rest of the school, the parents and families, the dudes on the street, the villains, organized crime –

In short, you’ve got a lot of Quirks to figure out, especially if they all have to be at least slightly unique.

At first glance, this leads to a few lame Quirks. One girl can make her hands grow to the size of her body. Deku’s mom can levitate small objects – small objects, from a short distance away. Another student can voice control small animals.

But, as the teachers use their classes and obstacles to drill into the students, it’s not what your Quirk is – it’s how you use it.

And part of the joy of MHA is seeing all the creative ways people use their Quirks.

Deku is one of the most obvious examples, since he didn’t even get his Quirk until the start of the show, so he hasn’t been experimenting with it since childhood. However, it’s also a powerful strength Quirk, and so a lot of his struggle is working to control it without destroying his own body in the process.

(One of the reasons he’s such a popular protagonist with the internet is that every single victory is an uphill battle…and even then, he often doesn’t conquer – at least on the first try.)

The out-of-the-box thinking – and the obvious fun the creators had in coming up with new ways to bend the rules of Quirks – make this element one of the best in the show.

Caveats

The show isn’t perfect. A couple story-telling choices hold it back, and some inappropriate humor might make it unsuitable for some audiences.

Non-Linear Story-telling & Repetition

The third biggest issue with MHA is the pacing, and the times when they don’t trust the audience to get the point.

I’ve pointed out above that MHA excels at building elements over several episodes, painting characters through repeated actions – not just dialogue – and then paying off great character development that we didn’t even know they were setting up.

Which makes it so frustrating when the show uses flash-backs to constantly go over material we already know.

I haven’t seen the manga, so it’s possible this is an issue with the anime specifically – possibly to fill out episodes while they waited for more plot content. But it’s frustrating.

Deku, especially, has a tendency to lapse into flash-backs of his childhood, the dramatic circumstance of him getting his Quirk, previous conversations (sometimes conversations from this very same episode), pervious interactions with different people, dramatic declarations (“I will be a hero that saves people with a smile—”)…

Not just that, but the beginning and ending of each episode is usually a recap or a teaser, respectively…one of which is material we already know, another is material we could know by just watching the next episode.

Y’all know there’s this thing called binging? We aren’t actually waiting a week between episodes…we just stream it from our favorite service over the internet, and – there it is.

Even if we did have to wait – we’re intelligent adults! We can remember things and make connections and get references to previous conversations without you having to constantly replay the same clips over and over again!

The very fact that not all of their story-telling is so ham-fistedly blunt proves that the creators have better skills than this — several of the side characters and minor villains, especially, are expertly sketched and fleshed out without the need of this mind-numbing repetition and exposition.

Perhaps the creators will eventually grow enough confidence in their craft to leave the copy-paste flash-backs behind. It would tighten and streamline the episodes immensely.

That’s not the only kind of confusing flash-back, though.

I don’t even know what to call this narrative device, but once in a while the show will skip over important information, then pause in the middle of the action to go back and show it.

This can be done well, as where Deku makes a clever plan for the group of friends to escape a situation — then, as we watch them act out the plan, we hear his voice-over directions to them, explaining how it should work. That compresses the narrative and lets us experience the action while still seeing how clever Deku was to plan it all out ahead of time.

When it’s badly used, it throws the characters into a confrontation, then jumps back to the characters discussing their plan of attack, then jumps ahead to what they’re doing…and that’s an example dealing with an actual physical confrontation.

Sometimes characters have conversations, but they’re chopped up – and we don’t get to see the more dramatic or meaningful moments of the talk until a flash-back from one of the participants later on.

This is all just frustrating – making it feel more like the authors withholding information for maximum emotional impact rather than letting us experience events smoothly with the characters.

I mentioned how nice it is that the villains get fully fleshed-out motives and personalities?

Yeah, only to a point. When we get to the point of stretching about one episode worth of conflict out across three episodes, padding the run-time with extensive flash-backs of information we either 1) know already, or 2) could pick up from a single facial expression…that’s just bad story-structuring. (YES, I’m looking at you, Gentle Criminal!)

Slowing fight scenes to a crawl so we can explore the backstories of each of the bad guys through flash-backs is also not the best way to handle it.

Yet…for all my complaints…the show still made it into my top five of all time.

If they fixed some of these issues? One Punch Man might be in danger of losing its crown…(not big danger, because Genos, but still…)

Sexual Humor

My Hero Academia is blissfully romance-free. One of Deku’s classmates has a crush on him, but she is currently channeling it into trying to be as hard-working a Hero as he is…not angst. And that’s exactly what actual real love is built for – to draw us out of ourselves and inspire us to be better, not to gratify our own desires!

The writers seem more interested in growing the characters into mature Heroes – not pairing them off…which is delightful. (They’ve also avoided falling into the trap of LGBTXXX-posturing, which is so refreshing.)

But nothing is perfect – not even MHA.

One of the students is girl-crazy (it’s like his single biggest character trait), and the humor department gets a lot of milage from his pathetic attempts to see their curves. There’s a scene where the boys and girls are bathing (separately) and he tries to climb the wall that separates them to get an eye-full. He fails…but the audience sees some naked back-sides (both genders).

Several of the female Hero costumes are…not appropriate. And one girl’s Quirk involves her being naked from time to time (though we don’t see any of the “essentials” that a bikini wouldn’t cover).

The show mostly plays it for humor – or as a realistic portrayal of female heroes using their “qualities” to boost their own PR – but it means I can’t blanketly recommend MHA to all the younger siblings out there.

Yes, girls have anatomy. Maybe we need to acknowledge that fact from time to time. But not everyone is ready for that.

Region 1 DVD Set Pretty Please!

You can come for the cool fights with different super-powers…the writers know that’s what you want, and serve up plenty of that.

But you can also come for long-form relationship development and character growth…growth focused on taking selfish, unsure, inexperienced children and turning them into strong, responsible, chill, kick-butt Adults.

I really, really hope the later seasons don’t go off the deep end…and also that they publish a reasonably priced DVD set soon.

Until then, head to your favorite anime streamer and queue it up! Yes, they have the “continuing story” threads that you’d expect from a series…but they also know how to close each separate story arc with cathartic resolution! Kimia-Hater-of-Cliffhangers approves.


Cover image credit: Newsweek.com

The brother and I watched it on Funimation. You can also find it streaming on CrunchyRoll, BestDubbedAnime, YouTube, and Hulu, plus I’m sure lots of other places. (Obviously you’d have to subscribe to whatever service you want to use. I can make no recommendations.)

Amazon does offer some DVDs (apparently so does AnimeCornerStore) but each season is split up for some reason and CHECK YOUR REGION BEFORE YOU BUY (also make sure it’s in a language you speak!).

My 27 Happy Birthday Things

Today – April 27 – I turn 27 years old.

(That’s right, isn’t it, Mom? Right? [math]…okay, yeah.)

My day-job is still on quarantine shut-down – along with most things in my state – but I figured I could still have fun by coming up with 27 things that I like.

Read on to: 1) find some things you might like to try; 2) rejoice that something you like is enjoyed by someone else; and 3) find out more about me! (Because who wouldn’t want to!)

1. Jesus

He’s the most wonderful Person in the history of ever. Not only does He put up with me when I’m being a selfish, petulant baby, but He rescued me from my own selfishness and is going to marry me one day.

(In a spiritual sense, of course. It’s not weird…talk to Him about it!)

2. My family

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

The famous brother!

Well, a whole lot of things have to tie for second place. But I think the cake has to go to my parents and my kid brother.

(Just kidding! I eat the whole cake myself!)

While they’re far from perfect, I think my parents’ success can be boiled down to two basic parenting choices:

A—They boldly lived their Christian walks in front of us kids

…the times they doubted, the times they came up short, the times they didn’t have the answers. They communicated their love of Jesus – not only in their words – but in the actions and decisions they made every single day.

B—They took us along for the ride.

We were never excluded in a little box of “innocence,” and they never made us feel like the adult world was some boring place we didn’t belong. Whether visiting the OB floor where my mom worked…or sitting around with our church-friends talking heavy theology stuff…or going over math sheets together…or taking two weeks for an “American Government” field trip on the East Coast because homeschooling lets you do that!…we were always included, valued, “one of the guys,” and shown the “adult world” as a place we absolutely belonged.

And my brother…well, I could talk all day about this complicated and precious dynamic we have.

3. Dorothy Sayers

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Amazon

She had to come sooner or later.

If I were to list only one author whose work I would want with me on a desert island, it would be the lucid, intellectual, witty, and soul-searching novels of Dorothy L. Sayers.

She doesn’t just write mysteries…although they are such clever, twisty, and satisfying mysteries.

Each of her works is infused with a philosophical bite, a keen insight into human nature, glorious British banter, colorful flesh-and-blood characters…

I could go on, but I’ll just recommend my personal favorite: Unnatural Death.

4. One Punch Man

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: One Punch Man Wiki

Another tie for 2nd place, this anime blew my mind and skyrocketed to the top of All Things Amazing in my life.

Yeah, probably don’t show it to the kids (there’s sprinkled coarse language and borderline male nudity), but there’s so much else awesome here!

Genos! Saitama – a noble (though bored) hero with the Daddy-like power to crush any bad-guy! Crazy monsters, and truck-loads of professional heros. Genos! A snotty telepath chick who kicks Captain Marvel in power, attitude, and characterization. Simple plots with deep themes – oh, such themes! Heroism! Self-sacrifice! The harsh reality of mob mentality, attacking the very heroes who saved their lives! Genos!

Enough already. Just go read why Genos is totally adorable, then maybe find it on YouTube or your favorite streaming service (or even buy the DVD and a t-shirt to match!).

5. Baking

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Pixabay

When I was a kid, I always found baking frustrating because it took so much time and energy to produce something that…would be consumed and gone before you could turn around.

Now, it still takes time and energy…but I just need those chocolate cookies, man. Whatever method delivers my hit.

Oh! I’ve also figured out yeast-bread. For the longest time, breads with yeast were always frustrating because they took longer, you had to get your arms all flour-y with kneading them, and 90% of the time they wouldn’t even rise!

Now, though, I have a few secrets:

a) Use yeast that’s not old and kaput. b) Knead on the kitchen table (which is just the right hight to be comfortable for my arms). You still have to get flour all over your hands, but if you knead it long enough the dough goes all soft and squishy and elastic and it’s lovely. c) Arrange the dough beside and above a ROARING WOOD-STOVE to rise!

Now…well, my baked goods still seem to disappear shockingly quickly. But I’m having enough fun experimenting with the process that it’s not so terrible when I only get one or two rolls.

(ALTHOUGH I STILL WANT MORE THAN ONE ROLL, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.)

6. My coworkers

I like my day job. I really do. Yes, it’s work, and yes, it’s makes me tired and frustrated…but that’s what adulting is about.

And part of what makes it all worth it is the great people I get to work with! They really are like family 🙂

7. YouTubers: Lindsey Ellis, Filmento, Overly Sarcastic Productions, Literature Devil, The Closer Look

I watch way too much YouTube. One of the reasons I’m always baking (or washing dishes) is it gives me an excuse to watch.

My pattern over the past year or so is: I find a video I like (usually on story theory, movies, or human nature) and then I go obsessively watch the creator’s entire back-list.

I forced myself to narrow it down to just my absolute favorites. Go check them out…maybe you’ll discover some new content you love!

(And one of these days I absolutely need to put something in their Patreon tip jar, ’cause – come on! – I want them to keep eating and keep making content!)

Overly Sarcastic Productions—My favorite of their videos is their series “Trope Talk” on various commonly repeated story elements/tools/building blocks, like this video on Paragon Characters (language caution for this one)—official site

—Literature Devil—His series of videos on “Is #ComicsGate Wrong?” asks the question: “Should comics focus primarily on Telling Stories, or on Politics and Social Issues?” Entertaining and thought-provoking!—official site

—Lindsey Ellis—I first found her channel through her ruthless critique of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake. She may be a woke lib chick from California, but even when we don’t agree I still find her arguments interesting and thought-provoking (LANGUAGE cautions, though!)—her channel homepage

—Filmento—This guy has an adorable little accent – I mean, also he analyzes movies from a story-telling and craft perspective…like this video where he explains why Captain America: Winter Soldier is amazing (language caution)! He’s also good because, when he critiques a movie, he gives suggestions for how it could be done better – like in this video for how the Men in Black reboot could have been stronger!—his Patreon

—The Closer Look—I first found this guy because of his video on how pushing a political viewpoint in a story alienates your audience…though I also like his video that discusses the unique immersion opportunities video games have versus other forms of media—his channel homepage

8. Wadjet Eye Games

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Gemini Rue

Maybe should have gone higher on the list but I refuse to overthink this.

This outfit consistently puts out amazing, high-quality point-and-click games.

The puzzles are intuitive (most of the time) and make you feel clever.

The stories and powerful, emotional, and feature jaw-dropping twists.

The voice work is top-notch, the music is addictive, and the graphics range from retro low-res to beautifully evocative.

How much do I love them? I finally bought one of their games NOT ON SALE! (Okay, it was a Christmas present from my brother, same difference.)

If you are in any way interested in point-and-click indie games, then checkoutmyreviews, and then give them your money so they can keep doing this!

9. Visiting nursing homes

It’s…strangely fulfilling and addictive. Of course, I haven’t gone to see my little friends for at least a month…but I’m still praying for them, and can’t wait to get back at it!

You, too, can visit nursing homes and brighten someone’s day!

10. Pretty yarn

My work-place has started carrying these super cute skeins that have multi-color swirls of different colors, and they look so adorable all wrapped up (and feel so soft and fun when you touch them) that I’d have a hard time actually using any of them.

But they’re still super adorable.

11. Columbo and Mission: Impossible

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: marketwatch.com

Tied for 5th place (don’t try to make the math come out…I’m not) are two amazing TV shows.

Columbo is a knuckle-biting (and sometimes humorous) murder mystery starring the smartest, frumpiest police lieutenant to ever be perpetually underestimated.

Mission: Impossible is packed with suspense, intrigue, slow-burn plots, keep-you-guessing double-agents – all held together with amazing teamwork!

If all you know of M:I is the movies…you’re missing out and you need to see the TV show!

12. My Hero Academia

My brother and I only recently cracked into this show over quarantine…and, well, I guess it lives up to the hype.

I know I put it after Columbo and M:I, but it might actually be my #2 favorite show. (It’s way better than Avatar: The Last Airbender YES I SAID IT.)

I really need to write a full review. Suffice to say that it handles a large cast expertly, builds slow-burn friendships and character arcs deliciously, offers pay-offs on things you didn’t even know they were setting up…all while exploring the explosive concept of a super-human society with creativity, humor, and plenty of action.

Perfect? No. But 100% worth $5 for a month of streaming from whatever service you can find it on. (And maybe when they finally come out with full-season or multi-season DVDs we can get those, too.)

13. Buckeyes

For those not in the Midwest, these are basically half-and-half frosting and peanut butter – rolled into balls and coated in chocolate. (Although they also work just plastered on a cookie sheet and chopped into slices.)

Chocolate and peanut butter. The only downside is the calorie price-tag.

14. Our dog and cats

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia WoodTied for 5th place (just give up…I have) is our dog (Border collie mix) and cats (our current ones are all-black American short-hairs).

My family never owned a dog until we moved to the country when I was…well, over 20 – and now I don’t know what we did without him!

Wag wag SO FLUFFY wag snuffle *stroke ears*

15. Knitting

I’ve been trying to rotate lately, to cut down on hand pain (really hoping this isn’t early-onset carpel tunnel), but I love knitting.

Probably especially since I can do it while doing something else (reading, watching a movie, talking with people) and feel like I’m being productive (or “extra productive”).

I’ve been knitting since age 12, and have made countless hats, scarfs, afghans, sweaters, shawls, doll clothes –

My bad. The doll clothes I’m thinking of were crocheted.

I also do cross-stitch, am getting into sewing, and have done embroidery in the past.

I probably like knitting the best, but it depends on the situation. (And I’m constantly having to talk myself out of picking up a new project.)

16. Research

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Mike Popovich on Unsplash

Part of the fun of being an author is researching stories!

Back when I was writing Sons of the King, I lived to hunt through all the obscure websites about castles, swords, poison, and other info about pre-Conquest Great Britain.

Hayes and Hayes, of course, required me to learn A LOT about the Drug Enforcement Administration, gangs, and meth. (Reminds me of a funny story from Sociology class…also I wrote a Statistics paper about meth-rehab clinical studies!)

And of course, White Mesa Chronicles let me dive head-first into societal collapse…what urban environments might look like after 50 years of neglect…home-steading…prepper culture…how you could rebuild Western civilization with a 3D-printer in your basement (ahem – you really can’t, but having 50 other families with 3D-printers in your neighborhood is a good start)…parasite epidemiology…I lose track.

Ooh! And if you grab my latest release (Transmutation of Shadow, publishing TODAY!), you’ll find out why I researched jails; the CIA headquarters at Langley, PN; the strength tolerances of bullet-proof glass; when Dunkin’ Donuts opens; and other cool stuff like that!

(It’s so much fun sometimes you don’t write the actual book…*cough cough*!)

17. Fire escapes and sewer grates

That reminds me. I have an unnatural attraction to fire escapes.

Not like I want to do parkour or anything… Maybe it’s just the draw of the forbidden.

Like those “Staff only” and “No entry” doors, and the little packets at stores that say “Silica gel Do not eat Throw away.”

What would happen if you ate one?

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: es.Valve.wiki.com

As for the sewer grates, I’m pretty sure that’s 85% to 90% of me worried a head-crab is going to appear at any moment.

18. Halo and Half-life 2

How could I call this a “list of things I like” and totally forget two of the greatest games to ever grace the digital world?!

While I have written about how, in some ways, Halo is superior to Half-life 2…they both played huge, HUGE roles in my development – mental, emotional, and creative – and I will always owe them a great debt.

(Honestly, though, the Master-chief beats Gordon Freeman. Totally.)

19. Steve Taylor

My favorite singer/songwriter ever.

My family teases me that you can’t understand a word he says…but if you take the time to dive into the lyric sheets, you’ll find words that cut deep to the soul of humanity – and then stake that soul out to roast on the solid rock of Biblical Theology.

He’s also sarcastic, which is delightful.

20. Kristen Lamb

This Texan lady is a blogger on story structure, author business, marketing, the publishing industry, inter-personal social dynamics…

She’s so very different from me. She’s aggressive. She’s a go-getter. She calls it like she sees it, and doesn’t care what extra characters (@#%&) she uses in her posts.

She’s also remarkably right about a lot of things…and I find her call-to-arms inspiring.

My favorite post is probably this one, talking about how content providers (authors, singers, artists, performers) actually do deserve compensation for the services they offer.

Check her out! Maybe even buy her books (or check out her tip jar if you really like her stuff).

21. Magnolia flowers

Every spring, the tree in the front yard blooms, and my heart sings.

22. also Tulips and Daffodils

Everybody talks about how wonderful roses are, but tulips are gorgeous and amazing and come in so many different colors and have such a pleasing shape! (Also our property is coated with rose bushes that are all thorns and will grab you at the most unexpected times but I digress.)

23. Marvel movies

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: BrianOverland.com

My favorites are Thor: Ragnarok and Captain America: The Winter Soldier!

My mom’s favorite is Avengers: Age of Ultron because of the scene on Hawkeye’s farm. She could probably just watch that scene over and over and be happy 🙂

24. RWBY soundtrack

I think I might like the music more than the show itself, even! As I said in my review, it’s like cinematic orchestral smashed with rock with a smattering of ballad…and also jam packed with clever words and emotion.

(Note to self: buy the CDs one day in case YouTube is down…)

25. Cleaning things

Sounds weird, I know. I think the fun comes from the visual progress of seeing dirt and grime peeling away and being magically replaced with clean surfaces.

(I also have a perfectionist streak, so whenever I start cleaning something, I get wrapped up in doing it all.)

26. Our D&D campaign

My dad and brother have gotten more “into it” than I have (which is strange, since re-launching our campaign was kinda my idea), but it grows on you. (Maybe dying has a way of increasing emotional investment?)

It has taken over my blog in some ways. Or rather, it’s kept the blog alive during some dry creative patches!

Go ahead – check out the Ranger Journal (at “Season 1: the Cult of the Reptile God,” “Season 2: the Village of Homlette,” or the in-progress “Season 3: the Temple of Elemental Evil“).

When it’s less about rolling dice – and more about creating a story as friends – it’s more fun!My 27 Happy Birthday Things — Kimia Wood

27. Blogging

Tied for #10, I love my blog.

Though I started it to promote my author career, I have fun jabbering about whatever I care about, formatting it prettily, then PUBLISHING it for all the world to see!

It gives me a place to process things I want to think about, and encourages me to articulate it in a way that makes sense to other people.

So…look around, make yourself at home – and maybe find something that entertains you and makes you think!


My 27 Happy Birthday Things — Kimia WoodKimia Wood turns 27 today!

She was born in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and currently lives with her family somewhere in the American Midwest. She’s bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

If you like lovable characters, gripping action, siblings who would die for each other, mysteries, questions, emotional adventures, and asking “what if?”…then you will enjoy any of her books!

Her latest novel just PUBLISHED TODAY, and features a lovable “Jason Bourne Jedi” – who works as a government assassin – finding out some of his targets weren’t on the approved list! Give me a birthday present and grab yourself a copy 😉 😀My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Best Articles You Shouldn’t Miss

I love Twitter for all the cool articles I can find and share there. So I dug back through my feed for the best articles, posts, and videos I found and shared this past year!

Whether you’re an author, a blogger, or just a Christian who likes thinking deeply about things, here are some cool (and/or important) pieces for you to enjoy!

Writing and Story DevelopmentBest Articles You Shouldn't Miss — Kimia Wood

This year I fell down the deep, dark hole of “writer YouTube”…Here are some of the amazing (and addicting) videos I found:

Former CIA Chief of Disguise Breaks Down 30 Spy Scenes From Film & TV

via WIRED

I found this video while researching my spy/suspense/action story Transmutation of Shadow, and it’s so cool!

Trope Talk: Robots

via Overly Sarcastic Productions

Red does a great job recognizing that humans and computers have totally different ways of thinking…and she also breaks down the good, the evil, the friendly, and the realistic of writing robots in fiction.

Rey and the Sad Devolution of the Female Character

via Thor Skywalker

We don’t hate female characters…we hate poorly done characters that serve a meta agenda, rather than feeling like genuine people within the story world.

Watch the video to see for yourself!

(Also check out this video – by Literature Devil – about “Mary Sue” characters…what they are, why people dislike them, and how they relate to the issue of “Social Justice Warriors”.)

A Few Words from Roger Zelazny

via on Tor.com

Roger Zelazny wrote the Chronicles of Amber, which inspired my dad as a young writer…and became a surprise favorite with me when I read it. This interview with him gives insight into his writing process, his opinion of fantasy vs. science fiction, and on writing complex characters.

It’s not a video…so read it at your leisure.

Action Choreography for Novels

via Felix the Fox Mysteries

Action plays a big role in my White Mesa Chronicles (especially Gladiator…guess why) and in Transmutation of Shadow. Thus it’s important to get the physics right!

This post (also not a video) will help you think about those pesky problems of what’s actually, physically possible in your story!

Also check out his post on making pre-modern (and fantasy) battles more realistic in terms of equipment, technique, and strategy. Remember: everything happens in context!

The Elevator Pitch

via Christa MacDonald on Christian Shelf-Esteem

If you’ve been in the “author” circle for long, you’ve heard you need an “elevator pitch”…a short, pithy expression of your book(s) that would fit into the space of an elevator ride, but make whoever’s listening want to hear more.

Christa MacDonald found she was making assumptions about what the people she was talking to would be interested in, and defending her work before anyone had raised any objections.

Read her post to see how she decided to let go of this fear rooted in pride, and share her stories at face value.

Worldview

Best Articles You Shouldn't Miss — Kimia Wood

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

How we think about the world is crucial…and our different perspectives form a central part of who we are.

Each of these articles (or videos) explores a different element of our lives and challenges us to think about morality, culture, art, ourselves, and/or God in a different light.

Enriching Lives – What Mass Effect 2 Teaches Us about Morality

via Extra Credits

Extra Credits create entertaining, thought-provoking videos about video games…how to make them well, how to tell meaningful stories through them, what they can mean for the broader culture, etc.

This one talks about how video games can force us to examine our own moral beliefs!

Artistic Originality: Is It Dead—or Was it Merely a Fallacy to Begin With?

via Sean P. Carlin

In our cultural climate of reboots, sequels, prequels, reboot-sequels…Mr. Carlin has asked the question, “What is artistic originality anyway?”

Can we ever truly be free of our creative influences, and make “original” art?

Read his article to find out!

Also check out his article about his childhood of urban exploration in New York City, and how our shifting culture of security-consciousness makes that impossible for kids of the modern day. We’ve lost something…is it worth the price of “safety” to give up?

Read his piece and decide for yourself!

How Virtual Horse Armor Paved the Way for Micro-Transactions

via Cheddar

Micro-transactions are all over the place in free-to-play games…sort of like YouTube has started shoving ads in my face every time I want to load a video.

This video (on YouTube…ahem) talks about how it started…and why micro-transactions that affect game-play make players more unhappy than things that affect aesthetics.

How Our Addiction to FREE is Poisoning the Internet and Killing the Creatives

via Kristen Lamb

This post was so interesting, I even wrote my own follow-up piece.

Basically: we all love free stuff. Getting free stuff, that is. But nothing is free…someone has to give it. And as authors give away more free stuff (books, songs, etc.) the more audiences expect free stuff, and the worse the whole problem gets.

Just go read her full post – then read my post about living generously!

(Also read her post about the flood of new books that self-publishing has created, and some strategies that we as an industry could use to find the “good fish” amidst the tsunami. Basically, go check out her blog in general.)

My Son Was Addicted to a Smartphone

via Sabrina McDonald on Family Life

Yes, smartphone addiction is a thing, and yes, you can confront it. In fact, before drugging your kid up for ADHD, look into culling his screen time! It might be the trick you need.

YouTube: Manufacturing Authenticity (For Fun and Profit!)

via Lindsey Ellis

Having become, ahem, slightly addicted to YouTube this year, I naturally found channels/content providers that I liked and looked up all their videos.

However, as an author and blogger, I also have a feeling for the other side (people all over the world aren’t watching my face, but they can look up my words at any time).

When the wall between “media celebrity” and audience comes down…when your favorite YouTuber or author “gets real” and shares personal things…what does that do to them? What does it do to us? What are the “moral hazards” of this “authentic celebrity” culture?

If you’re not sure exactly what I mean, just watch the video! It’s thought-provoking! (Language cautions, though.)

Christian Fiction Guidelines

via Chad Pettit

Did you know that some “Christian” readers have very specific guide-lines for what they consider to be “Christian” fiction? And that they’ll rake authors over the internet coals if they break these rules?

Perhaps we should go back to the BIBLE for a consideration of what we should be reading/writing in our fiction…and maybe we can extend some Christian kindness to our brothers and sisters.

This post is a plea for just that. Read it yourself!

A Tale of Two Worldviews

via Scott Allen at WORLD Magazine

Ta-Nehisi Coates versus Martin Luther King, Jr. — two African-American thought leaders with very different approaches to the race issue. Justice and reconciliation will only come from a Jesus-centered worldview.

MarketingBest Articles You Shouldn't Miss — Kimia Wood

We authors are always looking for ways to better get books into readers’ hands. Here are some of the useful posts I’ve found on marketing:

How To Improve Your Amazon Book Descriptions

via Jane Friedman

How do you describe your book so that someone else will want to buy it? Making the text easy to skim, and starting with a grabby line, are just a couple of the suggestions you’ll find here!

How to Improve Your Email Newsletters Right Now

via Bad Redhead Media

Email newsletters are one of those things that are so important, yet so mystifying. These tips and tricks will help you look like a pro to your fans! (Hint: STOP USING G-MAIL ALREADY.)

How to Write for a Blog: 10 Tips for Writing Strong Web Content

via Anne R. Allen

Writing a blog post is different than writing a term paper. Here are some easily digestible, understandable tips to help anyone write a better blog!

Blogger + Author Interaction Etiquette Survey Responses: Answers from the Book Bloggers’ Perspectives (2019)

via Vicky Who Reads

200+ bloggers were surveyed (anonymously) about how they want authors to interact with them. I found some of the answers very interesting, and it’s worth it to check out someone else’s perspective.

The Eternally Clickable Headlines of Buffer (And How to Write and Find Your Own)

via Buffer

Blog post headlines are mysterious, but very important. Here’s some advice that is readable and digestible to make your blog headlines even better!

Six Reasons Nobody Reads Your Blog and How to Fix It

via Mixtus Media

You say you could never write a blog? That it’s too complicated, or too hard?

These six tips might just give you the tools and the steps you need to become a blogger (or to take your blog to a more professional level)!

Hope you enjoyed these posts!

Be sure to share the posts you liked best with your friends, and support the authors!

What did you enjoy learning this past year? What were your favorite things to read? Give us your suggestions!


Best Articles You Shouldn't Miss — Kimia WoodKimia Wood lives somewhere in the American Midwest with her family – including the brother people mistake for her boyfriend.

She’s currently bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

“Wedding Score” by Amanda Tero

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia Wood Stephanie – and her author Ms. Tero – are both single Christian girls inching toward thirty. I am also a single Christian girl inching toward thirty.

This short novella is all about the unique (or not so unique) struggles that we loners face when we have no one but God to depend on…and He doesn’t have physical arms to lean on.

I was super excited for this book from the moment I first heard about it in the author’s newsletter. After all, Christian singleness is a topic I’ve blogged about a time or two, and I’m still traveling the wave of acceptance-to-desperation-to-resignation-to-panic-to-acceptance…

By Single Gals, For Single Gals

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia WoodMs. Tero has me by a year or two, but we’re both still waiting for our Prince Charming…and at times we’re not even sure he’ll ever show up.

But that’s okay. At least, it should be okay, if we affirm that God is the only one we’ll ever really need, and that His arms are big enough to carry us through anything life throws at us…even lifelong lone-ranger-ing.

But – focus on the story!

Stephanie is a relatable protagonist. To the point you might feel Ms. Tero snagged your own characteristics, changed a few particulars to deflect suspicion (for instance, I’m not a musician), and put you full-bodied into her work.

Stephanie is a conservative Christian young lady (wears denim skirts and everything!) and while I don’t think it’s spelled out, you can easily guess she was homeschooled (come on – denim skirt!). She’s also well connected to her church, reads her Bible faithfully, and has a large, loving extended family.

And, just like the rest of us (ahem), she gets hit with a debilitating case of “loner syndrome”.

Christian Religious Inspirational…

Writing about spiritual issues is a ticklish business. It’s so very easy to stray into preachiness, sticky-toffee sugar-coating, awkward marionette-plotting, literal Deus-ex-machina, pat answers to complex questions –

Ms. Tebo’s writing, however, rings authentic – probably because she supplied the text of Stephanie’s devotions from her own personal devotions. The trouble with a story is that we know it’s a story, and therefore that an author crafted it for a deliberate reason. By allowing herself to be vulnerable, and share her own struggle with singleness, Ms. Tebo allowed Stephanie’s journey to be as realistic as possible.

It also helped that the book description and marketing made it obvious this book would tackle religious issues. It wasn’t, for example, pretending to be a murder mystery (AHEM). Everyone who picks up this book will be expecting a Christian exploration of the struggle of singleness…and they won’t be disappointed.

Happily Ever After

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia WoodEven before I received my early-access copy of Wedding Score, I knew the ending would be a deal-breaker. After all, when you’re writing a fictional story, you are the “god” of the story world, and can give your characters any ending you want!

It would be too easy for a sick-with-loneliness author to hit all her characters with the “hunky Mr. Right” wand. But that kind of ending would be the last thing a Christian single struggling to be faithful would need. And, that kind of ending would in some ways negate the whole point of the story.

Ms. Tebo escapes that simplistic solution! After wrestling through the entire book with leaning solely on God, Stephanie isn’t “rewarded” with a flesh-and-blood man to hold her hand. No, she still has to depend on God – even while her friends are still getting married all around her! – but the work of His Spirit in her heart has brought a change.

And that is what we have to hold on to, fellow loners! Cling to the knowledge that no matter what – even if we never get to wear that dress or have our own kids – God will be right by our side and we will be “sons and daughters” to Him.

Not Alone

So what else can this book teach you, other than that God is faithful and will be all you need?

That you’re not alone!

Yes, maybe you don’t have your own little nest, but there’s still extended family, church family, and all the other single Christians who are going through the exact same thing you are! Maybe they’re in a different “stage” of singleness than you are, but you can bet they’re bouncing on the wave just the same (unless through the grace of Jesus they’ve arrived, in which case NOT FAIR).

Cry. Laugh. Tell us about your struggles. On the bad days, come for hugs. On the good days, dish out hugs – ’cause we need them!

Somewhere, someone has walked the exact same path as you. And for me at least, that makes the wilderness a little less lonely.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free ARC from the author as part of the book launch. I was not required to write a review of any kind, and all opinions are my own (imagine me being vocal about my opinions!)."Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia Wood


Check out my interview with the author!

Wedding Score releases this week!
You can add it on Goodreads, then find it on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, or as a signed paperback from the author!

Check out the author’s official website at AmandaTero.com.

“Talk to the Hand” by Lynne Truss

Talk to the hand, ’cause the face ain’t listening!

How rude!

Well, you know what you can effing do!

Is everyone around you shockingly rude? Do you find yourself dissed by shop clerks?…given the run-around by customer service phone trees?…pelted with garbage by faceless, uncaring litterers?

Lynne Truss’ Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door will comfort you that at least you’re not the only one exasperated…and perhaps challenge you that there is something we can do about it. Continue reading

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker — Kimia Wood “Dracula” is known as the original vampire, and the word evokes a cornucopia of images and lore.

But what is the original actually like?

Published in 1897, this Victorian classic delivers a compelling story of horror and love, featuring one of the most spine-chilling monsters of all time.

The Style

As Red from “Trope Talk” will tell you, part of the magic of the story is the style. It opens with the diary of Jonathan Harker, a newly minted lawyer traveling to Transylvania for business with a mysterious count.

This first act is admirably effective, as Jonathan progresses from describing the lovely scenery, to relating the curious superstitions of the townspeople, to his nerve-wracking first meeting with the count on a midnight mountain road.

The first-person immediacy of the narrative lets us feel Jonathan’s plight even more strongly as he realizes his imprisonment in the count’s vast but empty castle – and the diary form allows a mix of “this happened in the past” and “this is what I’m going through now or hope to accomplish” that forces the reader to engage with his harrowing experience on a moment-to-moment basis.

Fade to Black, Scene Transition…

We leave Jonathan’s diary on a cliff-hanger to read the letters between his fiancé Mina and her best friend Lucy. Mina, of course, is looking forward to her marriage to Jonathan (and concerned that his trip to the continent is taking longer than anticipated), while Lucy is flattered (yet also embarrassed) to have been proposed to by three charming young men in one afternoon (Number Three being her own heartthrob…and, once she accepts his offer, her fiancé).

Seem like a tone shift? It is in many ways, but the shift from Dark Gothic to Sweet Romance makes the transition back again that much more heart-wrenching. The girls’ perfect happiness (and their idyllic vacation at the seaside) cannot last…and when Count Dracula makes his grand entrance in England, the creeping sense of foreboding is that much more acute because of the shift in narrator and perspective.

Self Awareness

This sense of hearing the story from the eyewitnesses, with newspaper clippings and telegrams and hastily jotted notes written in trains and carriages, actually enters the story when the party is assembling the data they have on Count Dracula (the better to fight him) and uses the diaries and notes of their company to assemble a dossier of evidence.

I think this is a cute acknowledgement of the writing style…and after all, how would I be reading the private journal of a vampire-eyewitness unless someone compiled it for the benefit of posterity?

Patriarchal Romance

One of the things I adore about this book is that every single person is an adult. Maybe not all of them are super bright – after all, they fall for the stupidity of not sharing everything they know because “it’s too terrible for you to know, dear!” allowing Dracula to victimize one of them.

But I love how the romance is tasteful, self-sacrificial, and mature. Lucy’s three suitors all donate blood to her during her “mysterious” sickness where she abruptly loses most of her body’s blood during the night (when the window is left open…ahem). The two unlucky suitors hold no ill will toward the favored Number Three (and future Mr. Lucy), but rather do all in their power to assure her – and his – happiness.

Jonathan and Mina are pathetically in love with each other – to the point that they practice the old “withholding information for the other’s good” trope. On the other hand, the plot forces them back to full disclosure and honesty with each other, at which point they tell each other everything (with plenty of tears and declarations of love).

“I’ll never tell you about Transylvania unless I have to – it would be too horrible for you, dear!”

“I’ll never ask you about Transylvania unless I have to – I never want you to relive that horror, darling!”

Guess what becomes necessary?

Guy Power

What do I mean by “patriarchal” romance?

I mean the boys all rally for the protection of their women-folk and get their evil-fighting heroics on for the sake of those in need! This is not about “getting some,” since both girls are already committed to relationships – the two unlucky suitors, and Dr. van Helsing (see below), and the girls’ chosen protectors all band together to defeat the monster because monsters done need defeatin’, and they want to spare their beloved ladies as much pain (mental, emotional, and physical) as possible.

This is called “sacrificing your own needs for the needs of others” and it’s what Real Manhood is all about and I love it.

Girl Power

The counterpart of this is that it high-lights the specific strengths of our female protagonists.

Mina, for instance, has been studying shorthand (the better to assist her husband in his lawyering) and so she keeps a journal of all her experiences on vacation with Lucy. This comes in very handy when they need to piece together what exactly is going on – which she does along with Dr. van Helsing (see below).

Maybe she can’t race about the country on steamships and horses, and maybe she can’t physically counter Count Dracula herself, but her organization skills, logical deduction, and cool-headed smarts are a vital addition to the team. This highlights the particular strengths of women – without trying to cram the gals into black leather and force them to compete on the men’s playing field (which wasn’t really a thing in the 19th century, thank goodness).

Celebrating Female Innocence

Lucy’s strength of character is her sweetness and charm. Sure, she’s got three men (and counting) in love with her – but it’s her innocence and purity, not just her physical beauty, that attract them. In fact, far from wanting her as an object or plaything, they all desire her well-fare even more than they desire their own happiness.

Contrast this with the female vampires, who use their sex appeal and “voluptuousness” as a snare to lure their victims in. When Jonathan is almost caught by them, it’s unclear how much of his fascination is animal attraction and how much is out-right vampiric mind control!

As opposed to Lucy, whose modesty, kindness, and friendship make beauty a facet of her personality, the vampire female uses her womanly attributes as a weapon to get the blood she thirsts for…revealing her to be no different than the monstrous Dracula.

Dr. van Helsing

The most awesome character is Dr. van Helsing, a Dutch psychologist and physician with an adorable German accent who is called in when Lucy starts exhibiting her “mysterious” anemic illness.

While the doctor is sweet, gentle, conciliatory, and good-natured, he’s also the only person who realizes what’s happening – and promptly starts strewing garlic flowers everywhere and blanketing the place with gold crucifixes.

While even he is hampered by the trope of “don’t tell her mother what’s really going on lest we shock her into cardiac arrest,” let me just say I adore it when sweet old guys are the ones who know everything.

Maybe he can’t rush around on horseback armed to the teeth like the youngsters can, but he can Barney-Collier with some holy wafer like nobody’s business…and he’s got the spiritual and legend-savvy expertise the team needs to vanquish this embodiment of evil.

The Villain

Speaking of the villain, the book does an excellent job keeping him shadowy and menacing…with just enough hints to remind us of his evilness without overdoing it.

I was surprised that we didn’t get an explanation for how he became this way, or why he chose to be a cursed undead horror…but then again, maybe he didn’t choose it, but was cursed by a bite just as he cursed those he bit.

The powers of the vampires in this incarnation are clearly evil, from hypnotism and mind control to regaining youth and vitality from the blood of their victims (especially children – they love to eat small children).

While Dracula can control rats, flies, wolves, and bats – and transform himself into various forms – he is also constrained by specific rules that keep him from being omnipotent…and make him defeatable (for example, he can only cross water at the tides, can only transform at dawn, noon, and dusk, and must return to a box of holy earth to recover his abilities).

Spiritual Themes

An important theme in the book is that these undead are cut off from God. When their friend is raised as a vampire, the team must kill the creature not only for the sake of the other victims – but for the sake of its own soul.

Yes – the horror of being sucked on by a vampire goes beyond merely losing your blood…goes beyond being locked to your vampire-dad in a disgusting pact of mind-linking…even goes beyond rising after your death to restlessly roam the earth and inflict this curse on others, including your own loved ones.

The horror of the vampire even extends to being cut off from the God who made you, and banished from the presence of the Christ who died for you. (Yes, the book explicitly states the basics of the gospel, which is pretty cool.)

While the theology of this skirts dangerously close to the Muslim belief that something someone else does (even after your death) can affect your salvation, the way the characters repeatedly throw themselves on the providence of God (explicitly and specifically) and trust God to bring them through this harrowing experience is inspiring and thrilling. It brings the whole story to a deeper level.

And it also makes the catharsis that much sweeter for the vampires that are staked, beheaded, and stuffed with holy wafers. The hunters describe expressions of peace and release on the cursed ones’ faces before they crumble into dust…the dust their bodies should have been long ago, but for this horrible curse.

As truly repulsive as Bram Stoker makes his vampires – eating small children and gorging themselves with blood – he also makes killing them a mercy…and inspires pity for these wretched, darkened creatures who are cut off from the source of Life and the purpose of their existence: their own Creator.

And after all, your neighbors might not be ravenous, undead monsters…but they’re probably lost and cut off from God, and we should pity them and seek to set them free. Not with a stake and kukri knife, but with the Gospel of Jesus and the Sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God).

Whoo! Now I’m getting chills.

Classic for a Reason

Yes, there are parts of the book that are obviously products of its Victorian time period…but at the same time, the slower-paced parts and the lighter tone help to contrast and intensify the skin-crawling horror of the darkness and mystery (there are parts that get a chuckle-out-loud!).

Enough with the sexy vampires! Let’s go back to the source, and experience the explicit themes of light versus darkness, good versus evil, kindness versus cruelty, sacrifice versus selfishness, that made this book something that deserves to endure.


July 2 – July 23

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is available as a FREE ebook from Project Gutenberg, or from Amazon (paperback or Kindle), Barnes&Noble, Kobo (ebook or audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Join Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

“And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie

"And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie — Kimia Wood Ten strangers lured to an island. A phonograph accuses them each of murder. One by one, they start dying.

Who will be left standing? And just who is the murderer?!

As the author’s note explains, Agatha Christie wrote this because it would be hard…and she certainly pulls off a spine-chilling whodunit stuffed with questions about morality and “the perfect murder.”

Characters and Voice

Ten characters. Ten unique personalities and voices?

Yes and no. A couple of the characters die off so soon we don’t really get to spend much time with them, although they do get painted in general strokes.

Mrs. Christie breaks all kinds of writerly rules – but hey, she’s Agatha Christie! Whether she’s writing from the perspectives of most of the different characters, or using stereotypical short-hand to quickly clue us in to the character types at the story’s start, she goes against what your author “guru” on the internet probably told you to do…but still weaves an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

We are introduced to all the characters at the start of the book. Thus, we have a working knowledge of each of them and what makes them tick before they start dropping like flies.

But each and every one of them has a deep, dark secret hidden in there, too – from the young governess-turned-schoolteacher to the soldier-of-fortune, from the ex-policeman to the star surgeon with a drunk past.

As more secrets unravel step by agonizing step, we begin wondering if we can root for any of these people…and yet we can’t help rooting for them after “riding in their head” through this harrowing adventure. (That’s part of Mrs. Christie’s theme – more on that later.)

Suspense

I’ve been struggling to read over the past few months, but I finished this little classic in just a few days. To be frank, I should have put it down earlier in the day, because that night I tossed and turned with half-dreams of these characters I had bonded with facing mysterious death.

With zero gore and very little detail of the actual act of dying, or the dead bodies, Mrs. Christie still paints a picture of horror and encroaching dread where the characters question their grip on sanity.

I ask you, can any modern torture-porn horror author claim to have written something as chilling yet lasting as And Then There Were None?

The Onion of Mystery

Unlike a Robert Ludlum spy book, there’s no deep conspiracy here (which is what I’ve meant by “onion” in the past) but there is a “mad” killer on the loose on this rocky, isolated island.

Who is the killer? Which of the men and women in this lonely house could be capable of this elaborate, even artistic death-trap?

Mrs. Christie admitted it was hard to write, but she pulls it off. I didn’t guess the killer at all (partly because I was hamstrung by a Get Smart episode with a false assumption), but once it’s revealed it makes sense.

And that is the mark of a great mystery writer: to string the audience along until the big reveal, then have them cock their heads and nod and say, “Oh, yes, I see how that makes sense, now.”

Justice and Murder

This book bears a very similar theme to Murder on the Orient Express. There, the victim was a well-known gangster and murderer. Here, all ten of the characters are accused of murder.

And yet, the law can’t touch them. One man ran over some kids while speeding…another kicked a pregnant girl out of her boarding house, and the girl committed suicide (understandable given the culture of the time).

Thus, the Big Bad assumes he/she’s justified in killing these people because they are “murderers” beyond the reach of the law.

And yet…is he/she really right to take the law into his/her own hands even though the others are supposedly “guilty”? (And without a true trial, can we be sure that they are guilty?)

The answer of the Bible is manifestly: no! The king is appointed to punish the wrongdoers (Rom. 13:3-4), and we are not to stand on our rights (Phil. 2:5-8) or take matters into our own hands (Rom. 12:17-20).

But a person determined to construct the “perfect crime” is understandably not concerned with Biblical morality. The whole situation is orchestrated to baffle the police and gratify the perpetrator (and vicariously the readers, who will devour this safely contained horror of a puzzle box).

I realize I can’t say more without giving spoilers, but I was intrigued to realize Mrs. Christie has explored these themes on two different occasions…especially as I had connected it with a more “modern” trend in detective fiction of adding grey to both detective and criminal, thus rendering the contrast less black-and-white.

But I guess trying to validate the evil-doer is nothing new.

Gather the Survivors for the Revelation of the Culprit!

Agatha Christie is the culprit. She wrote this.

I was the victim. I fell under the spell of this book, and thoroughly enjoyed every spine-chilling, stomach-twisting moment.

You are the detective. Read this book, and see if you can figure out who the murderer is…before it’s too late!


And Then There Were None is available on Amazon (Kindle, paperback, hardback, or audiobook), Barnes&Noble (paperback, hardback, Nook, and audiobook), Kobo (also offers audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures!

“Avatar: The Last Airbender”

A"Avatar: The Last Airbender" — Kimia Wood kids’ animated series has not previously been in my box of tricks, so this was a fresh, new experience for me and my viewing partner.

Avatar: The Last Airbender has cool characters, awesome moments, great fights scenes, and interesting world-building…mixed in with immaturity and Buddhist mumbo-jumbo. But, hey, it’s all about the #siblingtime, right? Continue reading

“Caesar III”

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulator This civilization simulator has been one of my favorite games since childhood. The only trouble with playing it is that it will be an automatic three-hour sink every time I open the program.

The Mechanics of an Empire

Caesar III puts you in the role of a governor building a town from scratch. Your manager on behalf of the Emperor rates your performance based on population, crime rate, revenue, cultural attainments, etc.

As is typical for a city-simulation game, you are the Supreme Tyrant of your town. You must provide food and housing for your citizens, make sure they can get to the buildings that need employees, balance your building needs with tax income, and more.

Bread for the Masses

The food system is especially complex, requiring much concentration and study to perfect. Farms (which require labor) will produce food, which is delivered to granaries (which require labor). From there, it is distributed to markets (which require labor), which send “market ladies” out to distribute food directly to people’s homes. In especially complex cities, a market lady might take a wrong turn, leaving people down the dead end to starve until she figures it out.

And there is no way to control the way the people walk. They travel the roads of your city, randomly deciding which branch to take at each crossroad, and returning to their starting building once they “run out of food” or get tired.

All this careful finagling is perfect for sucking in hours of the player’s time. After all, figuring out how the system works and what you need to tweak to get it to function is all part of the fun!

If you happen to have a “warehouse” near your farms (designed to hold other things like pottery and furniture – oh, yes, you have to provide those, too) the warehouse might accidentally collect the food intended for the granary (in case you want to sell food to traders, you see) and this means the market workers can’t access it from the granary!

(Did I mention farms can only be built on land that’s arable?)

Imperial Combat

This is not a fighting game, although it includes limited mechanics for warfare. Some of the areas you will be assigned to are threatened by “savages” who will attack your town! (It’s even possible to face Carthaginians on elephants!)

If your town is in a dangerous area, you will have the ability to build military structures. These include walls and gatehouses, plus barracks for housing legions of soldiers (spearmen, legionaries, or horsemen).

I preferred playing maps that were “moderately” dangerous, so I could build gates to contain my populace (building a gatehouse across the road keeps people from wandering down its full length) and hosting soldiers to help put down potential riots (if you keep your citizens stuffed and entertained, they’ll pay their taxes and behave. Ignore their demands, and they’ll get vocal and torch-wielding about it).

Variation of Terrain

Caesar III adds variety by offering you assignments in different parts of the empire. For instance, you might take a post in the wilds of Britannia, where the grass is lush and green, and the groundwater easy to tap. (You must build fountains to give your people water, supplied by the famous Roman aqueducts.)

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulatorBut perhaps you will be sent to North Africa, where the pale sand is dotted with shrubs and bushes, and water is harder to provide. You’ll also have to use your farmland very wisely, as farms can only be built where crops will grow. Of course, working out the geometry for maximum farm-age is part of the fun!

In some areas, you are provided with lots of coastline, and expected to feed your people with fishing wharves. Sometimes there are even “primitive” natives, who must be pacified with a missionary post (teaching Latin and civilizing through education, of course!).

Other Obstacles

Oh, yeah, your buildings can collapse or burn down if they’re not maintained."Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulator

Your people are really demanding, and no sooner do you give them pottery and oil than they want furniture and wine! (Just click on the houses, or on the crowds walking the streets, and they’ll tell you exactly what they think!)

Also, sometimes wild animals will run around the map and stand right where you want to put a building!

Your Imperial Boss

You may have the ultimate authority and responsibility over the people and buildings in your city…but Rome has ultimate authority over you!

Caesar gives you money to get you started, and might send you loans to get you out of trouble should you need it… But he also has demands to make.

It’s not unheard of for him to demand 20 units of oil, or pottery, or another commodity. Then you have to order your warehouses to stockpile this item, and hope you gather enough before the deadline.

Don’t keep the Emperor waiting.

The “God” Mechanic

There are even more things to worry about as you try to build your city! Five Roman gods (Mars, Venus, Ceres, Mercury, and Neptune) will want temples and festivals in their honor. Your citizens are also happy to be able to pay their respects, and will want access to several different nearby temples so they can cover all their bases.

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulatorHosting festivals entertains your people, and flatters the gods. In return, the deities might bless your crops, or send a protecting spirit to kill your attacking enemies.

But if you should ignore them for too long…or – heaven forbid – give some other god more temples than they have…! Oh, they will make their wrath known!

Fortunately, you can turn “gods’ effects” off on the difficulty screen. I usually played with this “off” unless I had all the gods fat and happy.

Educational Content

So, Caesar III is a great way to burn the extra hours in your life. It’s even fun to tweak the systems in your city and gradually afford bigger and better buildings (I have yet to have a city that could support a hippodrome, but I’ve dreamt of it). Building your first colosseum, of course, always sparks a cut scene celebrating your promotion from “village” to “city”!

But educational content?

Back in my younger days playing this, I discovered a little question mark box in the corner of whatever dialogue screen you were in. Clicking this button opened a whole new world.

If you were interacting with a house, the ?-button would give you information about the Roman homes and the differences between simple terra cotta “casas” and the multi-story “insulae” (which are more like apartment complexes).

If you were interacting with the colosseum or theater, you could learn about entertainment in ancient Rome. The warehouse might tell you about ancient trade routes. The granary, food supply.

Believe it or not, at the age of twelve I spent a lot of my play time reading these little informational items, digging through to learn how each element of the game connected with the real Rome.

Educational games don’t have to be bright and colorful, or feature singing animals. All you need is a curious kid, and something that connects the game world with real life.

Rule the Empire!

To be perfectly and completely honest, I haven’t played this game out to the bitter end. Part of the reason is that it’s addictive (I’ll just build one more clinic…just wait until a few more people immigrate…ooh, a little more money and I can build this thing right over here…) Like a jigsaw or cross-word puzzle, each missing piece (say, a neighborhood that wants pottery) connects with several other pieces (like clay pits that need workers to run them) and each right answer is dependent on several others (like figuring out how you’ll feed the neighborhood that’s tucked in the corner by the clay pits to supply workers to the clay pits).

It might be more fun for those who enjoy attention-to-detail and obsess over the connection of many moving parts…while those who need a faster pace or more instantaneous affirmation might get bored.

But if you’re up for a challenge, have plenty of free time (like, HOURS of free time), and wouldn’t mind learning about the ancient Roman Empire…then I highly recommend Caesar III!


Caesar III is available for Windows from GoG.com, optimized for modern computers.

used Crossover to play this version on my Mac, and it works fine.

Also available on Steam for Windows (be aware Steam DRM-locks their software).

Find on Amazon as a digital download (for Windows), or in disk form.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for updates!