Review: Avatar, the Last Airbender- the Rise of Kyoshi by F.C. Yee

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F. C. Yee’s The Rise of Kyoshi delves into the story of Kyoshi, the Earth Kingdom–born Avatar. The longest-living Avatar in this beloved world’s history, Kyoshi established the brave and respected Kyoshi Warriors, but also founded the secretive Dai Li, which led to the corruption, decline, and fall of her own nation. The first of two novels based on Kyoshi, The Rise of Kyoshi maps her journey from a girl of humble origins to the merciless pursuer of justice who is still feared and admired centuries after she became the Avatar.

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BEA2019 Pt 1: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Book Expo…

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What a week…

The past few years applying to BEA was like trying to get refugee status or something. They wanted everything except my grandmother’s phone number. I understood the point: lots of people were stocking up on ARCs and selling them- even advertising them prior to actually getting them. Couple of years ago there was a woman who brought her kids to a trade show just to help her snag extra copies to sell. Heck, a woman was just caught trying to sell Leigh Bardugo’s ARC on eBay for $200 the same day it was given out!!! So, yeah- I get it…

…so you can imagine my surprise when my application was rejected.

That took a moment to process. I’d been attending since 2010, and had even been a VIP Attendee; the only one I missed was that one time they went to Chicago. And now I wouldn’t be attending this year’s either.

When I contacted them via the handy link they provided to inquire what the issue might be- had I possibly neglected to provide some info, etc- I got the stock response: “…it’s our event… we reserve the right to refuse anyone… all decisions are final… blahblahblah.” Not what I asked, but whatever, yo. And hey- they still invited me to register for BookCon!

*sigh* Aiight… I haven’t been to BookCon since they initially rolled it out- and lemme tell you, that first one was probably how the term “shitshow” got coined. It’s been a few years, so how bad could it possibly be now? (More on that in another blog) And it was relatively cheap, so- what the hell? I’d still have the week off beforehand.

By Wednesday I’d remembered something: when I first started attending BEA in 2010 they also had onsite registration at the Javitz Center. Then a friend of mine also advised me to try it, so I treked out to the Javitz and wouldn’t ya know- I got right in with no problem!!! Yep- after giving me a bunch of bullshit online they let me sign up on the spot anyways. Only difference was the $50 I would’ve saved via Online Early Registration.

Amazing.

A few of the usual YA publishers were set up in the atrium looking to snag your attention before you got caught up in all the madness.

I’m not the only one who’ll tell you the quality of BEA has declined the last few years. This one was stark in its degradation: fewer small/indie/self publishers, less swag, even fewer author booths & signing sessions from the big guys. I didn’t bother with any of the panels, sessions or lectures- there really wasn’t any new information to pick up from them. A big problem was the layout of the floor. What used to be a strict, linear structure was jumbled and cross-combined: 1200 & 1300 numbered booth in the 1400 rows, etc. It didn’t help that an entire wing of was taken up by something called UnBound: vendors selling all the knickknacks & chotchke you see in bookstores- mugs, pens, candles, etc.

Most of the usual suspects were present- Hachette, Penguin, Simon & Shuster, Macmillian, Shadow Mountain, Sourcebooks, Black Stone- but I was surprised to see this spot by Granity Studios, Kobe Bryant’s indie. The books looked really interesting.

Some of the smaller vendors like Vesuvian were off on the side, but never seemed to be around. Went by their booth three times to check them out- and no one was there! Not a good look, fellas.

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Best moment came when I was trying to find the line to stand in for an ARC drop only to discover George Takei was signing previews of his memoir graphic novel about his time in American Concentration Camps during WWII. Got to shake his hand (twice) and chat with him for about a minute & a half! (apologies for that to everyone in line)

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Second best moment came at the end of a long, kinda disappointing day. Hachette reissued a book from just a few years ago- think I still have the ARC- complete with the same campaign: free beer! Granted- they were Coronas, but at that point you take what you can get! In fact, a few spots were doing it: mimosas, fruit & veggie snacks and whatnot.

All in all, it was memorable only for what it lacked in comparison to previous years.

Review: Reign of Assassins starring Michelle Yeoh

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The remains of a legendary Buddhist monk are reputed to have mystical powers, including healing any type of injury. The body has been split in half with the Dark Stone Assassins, led by the Wheel King (Wang Xuqei), possessing one portion and have located the other belonging to Prime Minister Zhang. The Wheel King’s top assassins, The Magician (Leon Dai), Lei Bin (Shawn Yue) and Drizzle (Kelly Lin) murder the entire family, including the eldest son Renfeng. Drizzle, named for her martial arts style that ‘bleeds opponents like rain’, steals the remains and hides in the company of a monk named Wisdom. Wisdom explains there are flaws in Drizzle’s technique that a master can exploit, and sacrifices himself to try to teach her enlightenment. A disillusioned Drizzle is challenged by Renfeng, who survived the slaughter, but is again defeated. Drizzle undergoes plastic surgery from a renowned doctor and emerges as Zeng Jing (a slightly digitized Michelle Yeoh) and relocates to a new town where she meets Ah-Sheng (Jung Woo-Sung), a courier, whom she eventually marries.

To replace Drizzle, the Wheel King recruits Turquoise (Barbie Hsu), a sociopath and nymphomaniac who killed her husband and his family on her wedding night because he couldn’t perform. Turquoise is teamed with the Magician and Lei Bin as they hunt for their former associate. A chance encounter leads the Dark Stone Assassins to Zeng/Drizzle and she tries to negotiate her freedom for the remains. But the lure of power proves there’s no honor among thieves as long-standing grudges resurface and the assassins battle both her and each other. The Wheel King makes off with the prize while Lei Bin and Turquoise follow the wounded Zeng to her home only to be met by Ah-Sheng, who has a few surprises of his own up his sleeve. Mindful of Wisdom’s final lessons to her, Zeng is determined to find redemption, regardless of what it may cost her.

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This wuxia-style kung fu films lets its pedigree shine through. John Woo lends his name to the proceedings and there’s touches of his influence present. Anything with Michelle Yeoh is a treat, and Jung Woo-Sung comes through in his role, especially when he’s trying to woo his lady. Barbie Hsu’s Turquoise is much like Go-Go Mubari from ‘Kill Bill’. Even Wang Xuqei as the Wheel King was clearly having a good time.

The cinematography is a little grainy but the action is as fast and furious as you’d expect. Even after a lifelong diet of this stuff, it never gets old. My only complaint was the way the swords curved and bent during the fights; though it was deliberate, it just looked cheesy.

The biggest problem lies in the script. Written by Su Chao-Pin, duality is a recurring theme in the story- with each character possessing secrets and often living two lives. Stories are always important, but when this one tries to be clever it comes off as convoluted. There are many different layers built into it and though they flesh out the story they still feel like filler. The plot twists are like taking an off-ramp instead of sign posts to distract you for a minute while still pointing in the right direction. Events spring up out of nowhere and I had to rewind a couple times to make sure I had it all straight. It has a ‘Usual Suspects’-style approach to it but never quite gets there, coming off as bloated. There’s just too much stuff crammed into it.

Ultimately Reign of Assassins is a movie that sometimes takes itself too seriously but is still fun to watch. But it’s a good way to spend an afternoon and that’s what kung-fu movies are all about.

4/5 stars