The Shadow Mission

As mentioned in one of my recent posts, I was able to use my free weekend to finish The Shadow Mission by Shamim Sarif. This is book #2 in the Athena Protocol series. I read The Athena Protocol last year and I loved it. I had high hopes for the sequel. The Shadow Mission was another fast-paced outing, however, there was one scene in particular that didn’t sit right with me. I do discuss this scene in quite detail and I have attached a content warning as well.

After Athena’s mission in Belgrade, Jessie Archer is debriefed for her next mission. The Athena team is tasked to take on a far-right group known as Family First who feel women shouldn’t be educated and belong in the home. After a terrorist attack at an all-girls school, Jessie is thrown into the investigation and connects with Riya, a detective who is also investigating the bombing. Together, they uncover another terrorist plot on a different all-girls boarding school, can they stop it in time?

Originally when reading The Athena Protocol, I wasn’t a big fan of Jessie. However, I felt Jessie has grown quite a bit since the first book. She seemed more calm and collected. She was more aware of the consequences of her actions. I found myself growing attached to her story and why she is the way she is. Caitlin and Hala, Jessie’s fellow Athena agents, were still as intriguing as ever.

While Jessie grew on me as a character, I found a certain scene in this book that made me uneasy.

CW: Outing of an LBGTQIA+ character *read at your own risk*

There’s a scene where Jessie and Hala follow this politician who they think has affiliations with Family First. As they approach, they recognize that this politician is having an affair with a man. To gain intelligence, Jessie blackmails the politician into helping them and threatening to release photographs to the media. Jessie isn’t straight, so I’m surprised Jessie doesn’t see this as being hypocritical. Additionally, this scene takes place in India which in some ways isn’t as progressive as other countries on LGBTQIA+ rights. This politician isn’t a good person, however, this crossed the line for me. I felt this scene left me with an icky taste in my mouth. I wish Sarif didn’t write this scene in the book to begin with.

With this being said, I did enjoy reading The Shadow Mission. When I wrote my original review on Goodreads, I ended up only rating this four stars. With the scene I discussed above, it felt out of place enough for me not to give this a full five star rating. Overall, I’m still excited that this series exists and I can’t wait for book #3

The Suicide Squad

The last movie I saw in theaters before the pandemic was Birds of Prey. It seems fitting that the first movie I see in theaters is The Suicide Squad. My fiance was all about watching this on HBO Max, but I missed going to a movie. I convinced him to see this last Friday and get out of the apartment. The Suicide Squad rocked and it’s probably one of my favorite movies DC has ever made.

The Suicide Squad is a ragtag team of supervillains sent out on literal suicide missions for the US government. Led aggressively by Amanda Waller (played wonderfully by Viola Davis), Waller puts chips in their necks. Any deserter gets their head blown off which is featured quite gruesomely in the first half of the film. The squad is sent to Corto Maltese to investigate Jotunheim where something of alien origin is supposedly housed. Their mission is to find what’s there and destroy it, so Corto Maltese doesn’t have access to it.

This movie is downright ridiculous. Harley (played by Margot Robbie) is flirtatious and fun to see on screen. Robbie does such a great job and seems to genuinely enjoy playing as Harley. While Harley is the one to watch, it feels like each of the main Suicide Squad members gets their time to shine. Ratcatcher 2 (played by Daniela Melchior) is one to keep tabs on. While controlling rats may seem like a silly power, she plays an important role later in the film. I found myself drawn to her when I didn’t think I would be. If you think controlling rats is silly, wait until you see Polka Dot Man. Yes, James Gunn the director of Guardians of the Galaxy brought Polka Dot Man into this movie. Polka Dot Man (played by David Dastmalchian) serves a purpose here. There are several hilarious scenes with Polka Dot Man that I won’t spoil.

John Cena plays the Peacemaker who is obsessed with peace and will kill for it. Hypocritical much? Peacemaker was written for Cena as he seems at ease playing this character. Rick Flagg (played by Joel Kinnaman) has a much bigger role in this film than the previous Suicide Squad movie. He comes off as a born leader and helps bring the team together to rely on each other, so they can all survive. As a fan of the Harley Quinn animated series, I was elated to see King Shark. King Shark is the MVP of this movie. He tears through enemies and gets to feast on flesh as he does so.

James Gunn does a marvelous job at balancing all these characters. There are several story lines going on simultaneously until everything converges at Jotunheim. This easily could have been a mess, but Gunn adds in various hints to keep the watcher aware of where everyone is at. There’s jumping around at certain times, but it doesn’t feel out of place. The Suicide Squad can be a lot to handle, and James Gunn was the perfect director to make this film.

Without spoiling, there’s a certain character death that completely shocked me. I was fully expecting this to be a joke and the character would get up and walk around, but no. This character was DEAD. This threw me for a loop.

Both me and my fiance were blown away by how good this film is. As many know, DC’s films are a hit or a miss. There’s no in-between. I’m happy to say that this is so worth the watch. I’m excited to re-watch this on HBO Max. Let me know in the comments who your favorite character is from The Suicide Squad.

Taking Time to Unwind

One of my weekend plans was going to my friend’s Harry Potter themed Bachelorette party! It was at my friend’s cabin.

This past weekend, I had no plans. This was the first weekend where I could do what I wanted whenever I wanted. Planning a wedding has made my weekends more unavailable much to the surprise of no one. It’s gotten to the point where I started to feel mentally drained. I would get off of work, eat dinner, work out and then spend an hour or two browsing Instagram. It felt like I didn’t have the energy to read, play Animal Crossing or watch Critical Role. This weekend helped lift my spirits emotionally, mentally, and physically.

One thing I did this weekend was finish a book I was reading. I read The Shadow Mission by Shamim Sarif. This is the second book in the Athena Protocol series. It felt amazing to be able to spend my day reading without interruption. It allowed me to fully commit and become enamored with the characters, the setting, and the action sequences. I went through a reading slump recently, but now this weekend allowed me to get back into my books. My TBR pile is slowly shrinking.

Besides reading, I watched a couple of movies. On Friday, I saw The Suicide Squad which rocked. It was the first movie I saw in theaters before the pandemic. I’m going to write my review shortly. I also watched a documentary recently released on Netflix called Pray Away. Pray Away is about gay conversion therapy and the history behind it. It also features a couple of stories from the survivors. One of the stories brought me to tears. It’s an emotional documentary, and I would highly recommend it.

Finally, I installed some new video games to play. On my PS4, I bought Far Cry 5 and Lego Harry Potter Re-mastered. For the PC, I installed Nancy Drew: Shadow at the Water’s Edge, and Death and Taxes. I wanted something else to play besides Animal Crossing.

This is a reminder to check in with yourself. I needed a break from all the plans I have upcoming. I feel so much better and more equipped to launch into my plans. From now until our wedding on October 2nd, I don’t have any more free weekends, wish me luck!

Nancy Drew Message in a Haunted Mansion

I’m on a Nancy Drew video game streak! I played this game right after playing through Nancy Drew Alibi in Ashes. I was looking for a creepier game with more jump scares. I still haven’t found a Nancy Drew game that’s scarier than Ghost of Thornton Hall. Nancy Drew Message in a Haunted Mansion wasn’t one of my favorite games as I found the gameplay convoluted at times.

In this adventure, Nancy Drew is asked to come to a mansion outside the San Francisco area. As she’s staying at the mansion, she interviews Rose Green who plans on turning the mansion into a bed and breakfast. The mansion has been plagued with several accidents which worries Rose. Rose has asked Nancy to help investigate as she’s on the verge of abandoning her efforts. Nancy is always willing to help and she begins exploring the mansion to uncover what’s going on.

In this game, Nancy has to rely on time. Each suspect she can interview is only available at the mansion from a certain time. This allows Nancy a limited window to interview or explore certain areas. Once I memorized the schedule, this didn’t become an issue. I did mention how the gameplay was a bit convoluted. Some of the next steps in the game didn’t unlock until I talked to everyone. For example, I was told to find this man’s briefcase and I couldn’t find it in the room. It wasn’t until I had a dialogue with one of the other characters that when I re-entered the room, the man’s briefcase was there to unlock. Without the help of a walkthrough, I would have been stuck.

I was hoping for more jump scares in this one. There was a ghostly figure wandering around the mansion and creaks as Nancy ascended the stairs, but that was about it. There also weren’t any mini-games either. The mini-games are fun and I find they often make a Nancy Drew game memorable. I felt this game was a bit boring to play at times.

Overall, I’m glad I played this as my goal is to complete all the Nancy Drew games, however, this one wasn’t the best. It was a bit boring and the gameplay left me feeling stuck at times where I felt I needed to use a walkthrough to get through the game. The next Nancy Drew game on my list is Nancy Drew Shadow at the Water’s Edge.

Vintage 90s Comics Haul

My fiance’s manager hosted a garage sale. Among the usual garage sale goods, there were three full cardboard boxes of random comics. My fiance knows how much I love comics, so he asked if he should pick them up for us. For three full boxes of comics, it was $20. Of course, I said yes because I wanted to see what was inside. As I dig through the boxes, I wanted to share the comics inside and what I have read so far. With three full boxes of comics, I suspect I will create a couple of posts as I read through these comics.

Wolverine Season One – Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and Salva Espin

Wolver Season One isn’t a vintage comic but was included in the box. Wolverine Season One is a re-telling of Wolverine’s origin story. In the first few pages, Wolverine is seen fighting Wendigo in the wilderness. Gravely injured, Wolverine is rescued by couple Heather and James Hudson. They both work for Department H and look to recruit Wolverine to be the Canadian “Captain America” This story features Wolverine fighting the Hulk and Sabretooth along with detailing how Wolverine met Professor X.

I thought that this graphic novel was good, but it didn’t introduce anything compelling to Wolverine’s story. Wolverine’s backstory is so well known that I think it’s difficult to introduce a new take. Some critiques found this story to be too tame and not gory enough. I didn’t feel this way. Wolverine is a violent anti-hero, however, I think his complexity revolves around his moral compass.

Wolverine Season One would be a great graphic novel for new comic readers wanting to dip their toes into the X-Men. I rated this three stars on Goodreads.

X-Men Lost Tales Issues #1 & #2

I’m finding that there are a lot of X-Men comics in these boxes. Each issue of X-Men Lost Tales features four individual stories featuring one of the X-Men or the foes of the X-Men. My favorite story in issue #1 was the one that featured Magneto. This story details Magneto’s past, and how Magneto saves a family in a fire. Magneto is one of my favorite comic book villains because of his backstory and his complexity.

In issue #2, my favorite story was the one featuring Wolverine. I did have high hopes for the Jean Grey story, but it ended up being extremely disappointing.

I would rate both issues #1 and #2 three stars.

X-Factor Special Prisoner of Love Jim Starlin and Jackson Cuice

The last X-Men comic in this listing. This story features Beast as he’s walking around downtown NYC. He meets a woman who needs his help. After Beast helps this woman, he falls deeply in love with her which also transports him to a dimension in which he has to save this woman from a demon.

This story was uninteresting and confusing to follow. It’s my least favorite comic in the ones I have read thus far. I would rate this one star.

Avengers West Coast #86

This issue is the final issue of the “Spider-Woman at the Mercy of DeathWeb and The Manipulator” story. This features a mind-controlled Spider-Woman fighting Spider-Man to save her daughter from DeathWeb and the Manipulator. I’m not a fan of mind control in comics, so this issue didn’t interest me all that much. I liked seeing the appearance of Scarlet Witch, although she didn’t play a big role in this. I would rate Avengers West Coast #86 three stars.

Ms. Marvel Halloween ComicFest #1 2018 – Wilson, Alphoona, Herring

This was the last issue I read out of the boxes of comics. I was first introduced to Ms. Marvel when I played Marvel’s Avengers the video game. The game was mediocre, however, I did find Ms. Marvel as one of my favorite heroes to play as. Kamala Khan is a fan-fiction writer, Avengers superfan who dreams of being a hero. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Kamala breathes in blue gas. This blue gas is terrigen mist which turns Kamala into a hero with powers, thus Ms. Marvel is born.

I liked this issue a lot. Kamala is such a fun character to read and I love how light-hearted she is. Comics can be very dark to read, and this is such a breath of fresh air. I do want to read more of her story and this was a nice introduction issue. I would rate Ms. Marvel #1 four stars.

I’m still barely through the first of three boxes. Once I read another couple of issues, I will write another post about what I read. It’s going to take me a long time to get through all of these, however, I’m up to the challenge.

Roleplaying in Person – Vampire the Masquerade

Before the Covid pandemic hit, the last roleplaying session I played was Vampire the Masquerade. It was a one-shot hosted by my friend. I didn’t know then that Covid would hit and quarantine would begin. I tried playing role-playing games hosted on roll20, discord, or Zoom, but it wasn’t the same. I felt let down after a session because I didn’t enjoy the virtual aspect of it. I decided to take a break entirely from roleplaying until I could play in person. This finally happened!

I am a part of the Facebook group Dungeons & Dragons Minnesota This group allows for anyone in Minnesota to find players, a DM, or post about their campaign. I found a group nearby me playing in a Vampire campaign. I was immediately intrigued. After meeting the DM before playing, he helped me come up with my character. The DM was super nice and not judgemental as I asked questions about the rules. I have played Vampire before, however, I’m not an expert. Once my character was created, we set a date to play.

My character is named Luella “Lou” Montgomery. She’s a twenty-seven year old art student living in Minneapolis. She is a Malkavian which means she’s a mentally ill Vampire. She carries around a teddy bear that she has named Mr. Waffles and she often talks to him. In creating Lou, I was inspired by the little sisters from the video game, Bioshock. Lou possesses this child-like quality about her, although she can easily transition into being more adult which aids in her creepiness.

I thought the first session went well! Our characters didn’t die, and the session kept me entertained throughout. Our first session took four and a half hours. I couldn’t believe we played for that long without a break. The session was fast-paced with a mix of dialogue, investigation, and our showdown at a creepy house.

Our next session will be in August. One reason I was able to commit to this campaign was meeting once a month. Weekly DnD sessions can be tough for me to meet, so monthly is a lot easier. I’m looking forward to playing my character and seeing her develop.

How has your experience been roleplaying during the pandemic? Are you back to in-person sessions? Let me know in the comments below!

Do Outgoing Introverts Exist?

In any personality quiz, I have taken, it always asks if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. This is always tough to answer. I like being social and hanging out with my friends. However, I need to recharge. If I’m too social or have too many jam- packed social weekends, I find myself mentally exhausted. Both introvert and extrovert doesn’t seem to fit my personality. After reading Donovan’s blog post “It’s Time to Get Rid of Introverted and Extroverted” I wanted to talk about my experience with labeling myself as either an introvert or an extrovert.

High School Mariah wearing a Band t-shirt. circa 2011

In high school, I was shy. I was insecure about every single part of myself. I wasn’t sure who I was and I didn’t feel confident in how I looked. I still needed a social recharge now and then. I would often stay home on Fridays and watch movies with my mom because I needed a break from socializing at school. When I reminisce about this part of my life, I would have labeled myself as a shy introvert. I always thought that someone’s personality can’t change throughout their life, but this isn’t something I still believe in.

Freshman year of college – Fall 2012

Once I graduated from high school, I went to college. Going off to college is where I was able to shine. I was able to fully explore hobbies, meet new friends, and confront some of my insecurities. I dated someone who wasn’t right for me, and after realizing this, I ended things with that person. It was empowering for me to take control of my life and recognizing what I fully wanted from a partner. I started meeting friends with similar interests to me and this led me to become more social in college. While in high school I labeled myself as a shy introvert, now I would rank myself as an outgoing introvert.

Some find the use of labels comforting, but I’m the opposite. Trying to fit introvert, extrovert, shy, outgoing, etc. into my personality feels a bit overwhelming. I’m a unique person where I feel opposite terms apply to me. I wish we would get rid of introvert and extrovert because I think they aren’t full-encompassing personality terms. I feel very similar to Donovan and how they describe these terms. I would highly recommend reading their post that I have linked above because it resonated with me enough to write my post.

Do you think introvert or extrovert are labels you use? or do you think that these are wholly unnecessary?

Nancy Drew Alibi in Ashes

Animal Crossing New Horizons is devoting all my gaming time. I’m still nowhere near done with decorating my island, although I wanted to play other video games simultaneously. I wanted to play a video game with a start and an endpoint. This led me back to Steam to play through another Nancy Drew game. The latest Nancy Drew game I finished was Nancy Drew Alibi in Ashes.

Alibi in Ashes starts with Nancy receiving a note to go to the town hall in River Heights. As she investigates why she was sent there, she’s locked in a room where a fire starts. After escaping the town hall, she’s questioned by the local police leading to her arrest. Alibi in Ashes is a unique Nancy Drew game as Nancy spends the majority of her time in jail. As the player, Nancy can switch to either her boyfriend Ned, or her friends Bess and George. Nancy can send her allies to various parts of River Heights to look for clues, play mini-games and gather evidence.

I liked being able to switch between Nancy’s friends. I found myself relying on Ned for the most part because certain situations required him to talk to the NPC’s. While I liked being able to play as Nancy’s friend, I thought the mechanics could have been better. To switch characters, Nancy would call her friends. However, I couldn’t switch from Ned to Bess for example, I would use Ned to call Nancy who then had to call Bess to switch the game to her. If they are all friends, why couldn’t I seamlessly switch between Nancy to Ned to Bess without having to go through Nancy? I didn’t think this was a big deterrent to playing the game, although it was a bit of a nuisance at times.

Each Nancy Drew game is known for the puzzles or the mini-games. There was a fun antique box mini-game that can be played in the antique store in River Heights. The box opens with various numbers on the screen. In the game, you have to click numbers 1 – 41 at a certain time. I think I spent about thirty minutes playing this mini-game over and over again. Out of all the Nancy Drew games, I have played, this mini-game was the most enjoyable and addicting.

Towards the end of the game, it’s revealed early on who is the one who framed Nancy. The climax of the game is having to prevent the suspect from revealing incriminating information about Nancy. I enjoy the Nancy Drew games where it’s more of a jump scare of who the evil villain is. It didn’t distract from the game, but I felt a little let down with the villain reveal.

Nancy Drew Alibi in Ashes is a solid Nancy Drew outing. It’s a fun take on the other Nancy Drew games by allowing other playable characters and being able to navigate around Nancy’s hometown of River Heights. Out of the thirty three Nancy Drew games out there to play, I only have twenty eight more to go!

All my post game awards – including playing the clock game too much

Which Vox Machina Character Am I?

I’m a sucker for quizzes. I have taken numerous personality tests and Buzzfeed quizzes on numerous topics. As I’m typing this post, I’m listening to Critical Role. This made me think about whether there’s a quiz regarding which member of Vox Machina I am. Sure enough, I went looking for one and found Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role Character quiz. I decided to take a full post dedicated to which character I get. I have attached the link above, so you can take the quiz for yourself.

If I Could Live Anywhere in the World, Where Would I Live? (Options are: Hawaii, Seattle, New York, Tokyo, Iceland, and Scotland).

My first choice was going to be Scotland. However, I would miss my family too much and they live in the states. I’m not much of a beach person, so realistically, I picked Seattle. I’m a fan of rainy days and while I love New York, it’s a bit too populated for me. Seattle it is.

What Always Puts Me in a Good Mood? (Options are: Animals, Money, Hiking, Music, Movies, Legos, Happy Hour or Dinner)

Out of all the options, my top three would be animals, hiking, or dinner. I think I’m going to pick animals because nothing cheers me up more than being sent a cat video by my fiance.

Team Cap or Team Ironman?

Team Cap forever and always

When I Get Paid, The First Thing I Spend it on Is. . . (Options are: Necessities, Food, Books, Toys, Liquor, Music, Shopping in General)

This was an easy choice for me. I would spend my money on books. I live five minutes away from my local bookstore and every time I stop by, I end up purchasing a new book to read.

What Makes Me Angry? (Options are: Abandonment, Self-Doubt, Rejection, Betrayal, Everything, Can’t Tell You)

I picked Betrayal. I’m a loyal person meaning I will always have my friend’s back or my fiance. Any betrayal whether it’s a lie or cheating would hurt me deeply. I think honesty is always the way to go especially if it involves another person and their feelings.

What Luxury Do I Have in my Home? (Options are: Gym, Hidden Room, Wine Cellar, Workbench, Shrine, Library)

I would love a library. It would be a dream of mine to have a room in my house where all my books can be found.

I got Keyleth! (played by Marisha Ray) It must be my love of books as Keyleth is constantly reading to learn new spells for the group. I’m a sweetheart and I’m a bit awkward, I would agree with that.

As mentioned above, I did link the quiz, so feel free to take it for yourself to see who you get.

Aquicorn Cove – Review

Last year, I read Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill. I was blown away by the art along with how Katie can write heavy topics with a bright artistic style. Once I read Tea Dragon Society, I had purchased Aquicorn Cove, another book written in the same world as Tea Dragon Society. It’s no surprise that Aquicorn Cove was a graphic novel I would adore. This story focuses on the loss of a family member and ocean preservation which are two topics that are drastically different, yet Katie can focus on both topics equally.

Aquicorn Cove stars a young girl named Lana. Lana goes on a trip to her father to visit her Aunt Mae who lives by the sea. Lana would visit Mae when she was younger with her mother. Unfortunately, Lana’s mother is killed in a boating accident when Lana was young. As Lana visits Mae, Lana discovers a young, injured Aquicorn which resembles a Tea Dragon seahorse. Throughout the story, Lana realizes that Mae’s actions may have damaged the ocean and led to the injury of the Aquicorn. This forces Mae to recognize that her actions have consequences.

I see the struggle Lana faces as she visits Mae. Lana is struggling with memories of her mother. As someone who has lost a parent at a young age, I felt Lana’s pain. She is coming to terms with the fact that these memories will preserve her mother in her mind, although, it’s painful to think that her mother is gone. This is all illustrated by Katie O’Neill across the pages of the story.

Katie’s imagery in this is breathtaking. The sea is bright, the sky is sparkling, and the aquicorns are cute creatures living in the sea. Each panel was interesting to look at. While this book is about 100 pages long, I found myself taking longer to read it because I kept looking at each panel.

Aquicorn Cove is a beautiful story of life, loss, and reflection. I would recommend reading Tea Dragon Society first because I think it sets the tone for this story. Both Tea Dragon Society and Aquicorn Cove can be purchased on Oni Press‘s website or through your local book store.