Collected Comics Reading Oct ‘15

Getting some comic on Kindle sales to read with my new Fire meant that I read enough comics to make it it’s own post instead of dropping them on the end of my What I’m Reading post.

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Green Arrow: The Outsiders War – This is the second of Lemire and Sorrentino’s Green Arrow collections.  It continues the dark, adventurous story of the first volume.  This time, it starts to incorporate more elements from the TV show, like Ollie’s partner Diggle, but also goes its own way.  Green Arrow goes with Shado to confront Komodo and the Outsiders in an attempt to save his half-sister, who has been raised as Komodo’s daughter.  While Flyff, Naomi and Diggle work against new threat Richard Dragon (new to this current volume) in Seattle, Ollie searches for the Totem Arrow so he can officially lead the Arrow clan against the other weapon clans that make up the Outsiders.  Things quickly come to a head, and Oliver must lead a few clans against the ones that have teamed with Komodo.  

This continues to be an excellent comic. The art and writing mesh incredibly well and make for the best archer themed comics on the stands over the last few years.  It does come to its conclusion with the Outsiders just a bit too fast.  It doesn’t really spare enough to time to really flesh out this supposed ancient organization.  It just all comes together really quickly right at the end. That doesn’t stop it from being an altogether enthralling read, just one I wish was another ten or so issues long.

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Hawkeye Volume 1 – This is the archer themed comic that garnered all the praise.  Much of it was deserved; Fraction and Aja’s work here is really good.  But it might just my disconnect with the current Marvel Universe, but I found it to be more really good than great.  It reads much like Fractions take on Iron Fist, but just not quite as good. It teams Clint Barton Hawkeye with Kate Bishop, the Young Avenger’s Hawkeye, as they have fairly street level adventures. It is fun stuff.

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The Immortal Iron Fist: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven – This is the comic that makes me interested in things done by Matt Fraction, as well as David Aja and Ed Brubaker.  It has Iron Fist transported to the mystical city of K’un-L’un, which when it lines up with the other mystical cities they have a martial arts tournament. While he fights in the tournament and deals with intrigue in the cities, the villainous Xao tries to find a way to break into the cities and Danny’s allies try to stop him.  The mystery and intrigue builds as Danny tries to get to the bottom of things until everything finally explodes. I don’t really want to spoil it; it is just an amazing book.  Read it.

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Grayson Volume 1 – I’ve got to be honest, I avoided this one because I thought this take on Dick Grayson sounded terrible and I didn’t know much about the writers, Tom King and Tim Seeley.  Since then, I’ve heard tons of praise about it I picked it up when I saw it on sale for Kindle.  It is much better than I expected.  Dick Grayson goes undercover in the spy organization Spyral and he tries to maintain his cover while staying true to who he is.  It manages to be both a lot of fun and have a fairly affecting story.  It has just a ton of weird spy stuff mixed with some of the best stuff from Morrison’s Batman Inc.  Having Dick pretend to be a gay instructor at a girl’s boarding school that trains its students to be assassins is fun. Having him confront a target and talk him down peacefully before another agent takes him out is shocking.  This is just a really, really well made comic.

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The Long Halloween – I had heard good things about this, but I came to comics reading too late to really get my hopes up for any book with Jeph Loeb’s name on it.  Still, the sale on this was too good to pass up.  I was surprised at how much I liked it.  And at how much it influenced The Dark Knight movie.  Everything but the Joker seems to come right from this comic.  It is a loose mystery that last a year that allows Tim Sale to draw all of the Batman expanded cast.  It is great art.  The story is fine, but it doesn’t really amount to anything in the end. I really like this, though, even as just an art showcase.  I don’t mean to be too hard on the story; it is fine, but it is more striking moments that any strong central narrative.  Still, it is good. Definitely worthy of its reputation as one of the must read Batman books.

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All New X-Men Volume 1 – God, I don’t care.  I quit reading Bendis comics because I didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth in 4 dollar increments.  He is just too slow paced.  Reading it in collected form doesn’t really fix the problem.  Here, the Beast goes and gets past versions of the original X-Men team to try to show Cyclops the error of his editorially mandated ways.  A lot of my problem has to do with how bad some of the stories previous to this one were, but this story is nothing more than serviceable.  Not this it is easy to get a read on it, since it barely gets things started before it ends.  Bendis is great at building stories and setting up interesting status quos, but he never really nails the payoff moments.  This looks to be more of the same.

Legend of Zelda Triforce Heroes

Nintendo was forced to delay Zelda for WiiU until next year or maybe to the NX if you believe rumors based on the fact that Zelda WiiU and NX are both probably coming out next year, but they did manage to publish an entry in the Legend of Zelda series this year in Triforce Heroes. It is not what a lot of people wanted and certainly does not have as wide of appeal as its predecessor on 3DS, but it is still an excellent entry in an oft overlooked sub-brand of Zelda, the multiplayer ones.

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In this game, the player controls a hero who happens to look like Link and is teamed with two other heroes that look like Link to try to save the fashion obsessed Kingdom of Hytopia and its Princess Styla. The players try to break a curse on the Princess by venturing out into the drablands and trying to find the witch who cursed her. Hytopia’s obsession with fashion comes in with the games different costumes for Link. Each on provides him with a bonus. Some make certain weapons, like the bow or bombs, stronger. Others change the amount of hearts to rupees that enemies drop or the number of hearts that Link has. While speeding through the 35 or so stages of the game isn’t difficult, beating all of the challenges and getting the drops needed to acquire all of the different costumes will take considerable time.

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This is a style that Nintendo has tried before, back in the ill-fated days of connectivity with the Four Swords games. The first of which was a delightful mode for the GBA version of A Link to the Past and the second was a substantial and enjoyable experiment for the GameCube. They both shared the same problem, though, that it was nearly impossible to find people to play with. On the GBA you had to have 4 people with GBAs and a link cable and on the GameCube you needed those same GBA and 4 link cables. Playing it is a great experience; actually getting set up to play was a nightmare and is all but impossible today. Triforce Heroes largely fixes those problems by allowing for online multiplayer. Of course, there have been widespread complaints about connection problems, but I didn’t really experience any such problems. Playing online was a largely painless experience

Most of my time with this game so far has been spent playing it single player. It is not the ideal way to play the game, but it is still an enjoyable experience. The other two Links become doppels, dummies that just stay where you leave them. At times this is a particularly clunky solution, such as when you need to cover ground that has already been cleared. While the totem ability, where one Link lifts and carries another, lessens this problem some, being able to just call the other Links to the player would be a plus. For the most part, having the others become deadweight when not in use works really well with how the challenges are set up. Most of the challenges involve doing things in order or by color of Link, and putting the Links where you want them and switching when needed works. The few times where precise timing is needed the single player becomes tough, but none of the levels are impossible or even all that difficult by yourself.

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Still, the heart of the game is the multiplayer and that part shines. At least is does if you get marginally competent companions. The ideal way to play, as it has ever been in any multiplayer game, is with some friends in the same room, with easy communication and camaraderie. The lack of voice chat can occasionally hamper communication, but not having to hear the inane or offensive babble of your unknown internet companions is still a net plus.

Triforce Heroes isn’t really the Zelda game that most people wanted, but it is one that will be remembered fondly in years to come. It is not likely to be anyone’s favorite Zelda game, but it is different enough from the norm that I suspect it will have dedicated fans.

Spectre Review

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I make no secret of the fact that I am not, in general, a big fan of the direction the James Bond movies have taken with Daniel Craig playing the role. The movies have been largely well received by both critics and audiences, but they have left me cold. From Casino Royale on the movies abandoned the more fantastic elements of the series, attempting to be more serious and realistic in tone. That tone carried over to Craig’s portrayal of Bond as a conflicted, tormented killer. While it does make it feel more real, it is also less charming and no fun at all. Skyfall backtracked a little to the more traditional Bond set up, and Spectre brings back even more of those silly fantastic elements. Unfortunately, the tone sticks with the dour realism, making the fun stuff seem out of place and attempts to be serious look ridiculous. Despite some good moments and performances, the movie seems hacked together and inconsistent. No matter whether you prefer the recent vintage of Bond or a more classic flavor, Spectre is sure to leave you unsatisfied.

Spectre starts with Bond on a secret, at least from MI6, mission in Mexico where he tries to kill someone on the orders of the previous M and manages to cause an international incident while doing so, and by happenstance thwarting the bombing of a Mexican stadium. From there he is grounded by the new M. MI6 is again under scrutiny about their place in the modern world, with a young punk working to supplant them with a new intelligence gathering system. Meanwhile, Bond evades his watchers to follow a lead on a secret organization that both his target in Mexico and Silva, the villain from Skyfall, belonged to. In Italy, he finds this organization and it leads him on missions around the world trying to stop the villain.

The movie brings back even more classic Bond elements that were excised in Casino Royale. Bond ends up with a super car, a gadget watch, Q and Moneypenny and a great big villain lair. Despite this, Spectre remains as somber and charmless as the previous three movies. The two different elements, the serious and the ridiculous, could be forced to work together, but the movie makes no attempt to do so. It plays the ridiculous stuff with as much seriousness as it did with the relatively realistic Casino Royale stuff. Reading a description of Spectre makes it sound so fun, but the movie sucks all the fun out of the concepts.

Take the villain, who [spoilers, I guess] is Blofeld. Except, he is known as Franz Oberhauser for the bulk of the movie. He whispers the name Ernst Stavro Blofeld to Bond during the requiste torture scene, but that didn’t need to be a twist. That name means nothing to Bond, it only has meaning to the viewers. And for reasons that will never makes sense, he is also given a childhood connection to Bond, because the fact that he is a master villain that is trying to destroy society is not enough of a reason for Bond to hunt him down and the fact Bond is a superspy that keeps ruining his plans is not enough to give Blofeld a grudge. Instead, there had to be a personal connection, even though it adds nothing. The whole movie is like that, trying to make things serious and personal that are inherently ridiculous.

If they had stuck to the serious stuff, Spectre would likely have been another movie on the level of Casino Royale and Skyfall. Craig is a fine actor and does good work with what he is given. Lea Seydoux and the rest of the supporting cast are great as well. Only Waltz and Bautista seem to come from a more fun version of this movie. Like many of the different pieces that make up Spectre, they are fine on their own, but the just don’t fit together and little effort seems to have been put forth to make them fit.

In a summer that had spy movies like Mission Impossible 5 (the plot of which bears a striking resemblance to this movie’s) The Man from UNCLE and even the comedy Spy, Spectre seems half-baked and wholly unsatisfying. It does give this version of James Bond an ending that is fitting for a more serious take on the character. Hopefully next time Bond comes with another fresh take, because this one is getting pretty stale.

The Peanuts Movie Review

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Do you remember all of your favorite bits from the old Peanuts movies and holiday specials? Well, so do the people behind the new Peanuts movie and they can’t resist showing it. That is the biggest problem with an otherwise wholly enjoyable movie: that it offers little the viewer hasn’t seen before. That is assuming, of course, that the viewers are familiar with the past film versions of the Peanuts gang.  Or that they are familiar with the Peanuts gang at all.  Judging by the crowd in the theater I saw the movie in, they might not be and so The Peanuts Movie is a nearly perfect way to introduce them to Charles Schulz creations.

Like many Peanuts films, The Peanuts Movie has a nominal central plot thrust, Charlie Brown trying to work up the courage to talk to the little red haired girl, but is told in a series of loosely connected episodes.  It starts with Charlie Brown ignoring the snow to practice summer activities like baseball and kite flying.  Like the rest of the film, it is charming if familiar.  That initial snow day, which includes a reprise of the skating sequence from Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, serves as an introduction to both the primary characters, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally, Snoopy and Woodstock and an introduction to the idea of Charlie Brown as a lovable loser.  From there it introduces the little red haired girl, as well as the rest of the Peanuts gang, and Charlie Brown’s quest to win her affection.

From there the movie falls into its episodic format.  It intersperses scenes of Charlie Brown coming up with a new idea to gain the attention of the little red haired girl with scenes from the book Snoopy is writing about his battles against the Red Baron.  While Charlie does have a goal, it mostly exists as a loose narrative structure to hang the scenes the movie wants to show on.

Some of the episodes are better than others.  Snoopy’s get to be a bit much, but they are easily the most visually impressive of the bunch.  Seeing the dogfights with all of the biplanes, and Snoopy’s doghouse, twisting around each other in midair is amazing.  The story of them is thin; Snoopy meets a lady dog pilot who gets captured by the Red Baron, so Snoopy fights him to save her.  Simple, but fun. As far as Charlie Brown’s segments go, I liked the school dance the best.  The talent show seemed to be pressing the characters and their interests a bit too much. The school dance, though, has Charlie Brown learning a skill the he could conceivably learn and then, in true Charlie Brown fashion failing utterly to employ it. Even when he does, he is interrupted by happenstance. Charlie Brown can’t help but fail even when he succeeds. The test and Charlie Brown’s elevation to resident genius is also fitting, with his one true success being not his at all.

The Peanuts movie may be a greatest hits album of memorable Peanuts moments, but it is a well put together greatest hits album. It gives every member of the gang a moment or two to shine, even though few of them get the chance to really matter in the course of things. Hopefully, this is a precursor of better, more focused Peanuts movies to come. As it is, it is a fun animated movie in a year that, Inside Out aside, has not had too many of those.

***1/2

Now Playing in October ‘15

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Yoshi Woolly World – wrote about it here

Ace Attorney Justice for All – wrote about it here

Monument Valley – I got this to try out my new Kindle Fire (the big 10′ one).  It is amazing.  It is a simple, but beautiful, puzzle game that is more or less about exploring and manipulating an MC Escher painting.  You must move the protagonist through areas where changing the point of view changes the landscape.  It is not especially complicated, but it does have some pretty good mind benders.  The story is sparse and evocative.  The whole game is just short and sweet and pretty much perfect.  I just got started on the expansion, Forgotten Shores, and so far it seems even better.  If you have a device capable, play this game.  It is so great.

Ongoing

Yakuza 4 – This game is like 4 or five small Yakuza games shoved together, changing protagonists each time.  In October I cleared Taiga’s section of the game, the second part of the game.  I didn’t like it as much as the previous section.  It started with a pretty great jailbreak sequence, but then it’s got a stupid hard boss battle and doesn’t actually give the player much of a chance to explore the city.  It is still a Yakuza game and still mostly fun, but it is just the least fun parts of a Yakuza game.

Mega Man Legends – This is one of the best games for the PS1.  It coming to PSN is cause for some celebration.  I didn’t play a lot of it, only the first three or four hours, but it was enough to reinforce how good of a game it is.  It is like a playable Miyazaki movie.  I’m not sure I have the time to beat it again right now, but the fact that I can fire it up any time I want is great.  I hope the sequel hits eventually as well.

Super Mario Maker – I haven’t made quite as many levels in this that I wanted to, but I am still enjoying my time tinkering with it.  This is pretty much a perfect toolset for making fun levels.  The sheer number of different things that players have done with it can attest to that.  I have a feeling this game will be in my ongoing section for some time going forward.

Pokémon Alpha Sapphire – I really want to have this game beaten by the end of the year, but I keep setting it aside for other games.  I have never really warmed to this generation of Pokémon games.  These remakes are in many ways the best games the series has ever produced, but I am still not finding a lot of enjoyment in it.  Hopefully I find a team that I like and turn that corner pretty soon.

Legend of Legacy – I’m not sure how ongoing my play of this game is. I bought it since I had a lot of fun with the demo, but I didn’t make it more than a few hours into the full game.  It is just too obtuse and old fashioned.  I think I’ll put this aside until some people play it and I can look at a guide and get a better idea of how things work, because the game is not going to explain how anything works.

The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes – The reviews have not been kind to this game and they have been directly counter to my experience.  I haven’t even gotten the chance to try out the multiplayer yet.  So yes, that could still be a dud if I can’t get a good connection, but the single player, at least through the first 4 areas, is actually a lot of fun. There are times when managing all three characters can get tedious, but for the most part it is some focused Zelda fun. This isn’t quite a “real” Zelda game, but it is still a lot of fun so far.

Upcoming

Trails in the Sky – A lot of people I know are really excited about the second chapter of this game hitting the PSP (!) and Vita at the end of October.  The interest was enough for me to pick up the first game from Amazon.  I hope to get started on it sooner rather than later.

What I Watched in October ‘15

Movies

Back to the Future – I watched it last month, but it is still great.  *****

Back to the Future Part 2 – In the midst of the internet’s love for BttF a week or so ago was some very strong hate for this movie.  I don’t get it.  Some of the effects look bad today, yes.  But the movie is a ton of fun and a necessary bridge between the first and third movies.  The fact that scenes riff on the first movie is not due to lack of imagination but a storytelling conceit.  I will agree that it spends a little too much time in 1955 and not enough time in the future, but it is still a great movie.  *****

Back to the Future Part 3 – Yup. I still love it. *****

My Cousin Vinny – This movie is just really well made.  It has a lot of good actors doing good work.  I don’t know what else to say, this is just a very good legal drama/comedy.  ****1/2

42 – I don’t remember how much I liked this movie when I saw it in theaters, but I would guess it loses some impact on the TV screen.  It is a fine telling of this story, with good performances all around, but it is also very easy to shut off.  ***1/2

The Martian – review here ****1/2

X-Men Days of Future Past – I remember liking this movie a lot, but watching it again, after seeing First Class and being really disappointed in how it held up, reinforced how much I like this movie.  It still has some strangeness, like how they recruit Quicksilver to bust out MAgneto but then he just disappears for the rest of the movie, but otherwise it is pretty great.  ****

Goosebumps – review here ***

The Addams Family – Such a great cast and such a funny, macabre movie. The pairing of Christopher Lloyd and Raul Julia is just too much fun to watch, and everyone else is great too.  There is only one reason not to recommend it: the sequel.  ****

Addams Family Values – This movie is just better than its predecessor in nearly every way. Maybe it has just a little too little Julia, but it makes up for it with more laughs and a more nutty Lloyd.  The kids a summer camp is just delightful and Joan Cusak’s character is a nice addition.  That rap that plays over the end credits, though, is impossibly terrible.  ****1/2

Centurion – This is a decent movie about a Roman Centurion in Britain starring Michael Fassbender.  It is an okay action movie, with a handful of Roman’s trying to get back to their fort after being stuck behind enemy lines after a battle with the Picts. It never really rises above being alright. It is fast moving, which keeps it entertaining, but it also keeps things really simple and there isn’t a lot of spectacle.  **1/2

TV

Flash – In its first month back on the air, Flash has picked up right where it left off.  There have been moments that seem to exist just to set up the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow series, but the rest has been solid.  The latest episode even ended with King Shark.  A live action King Shark. On TV.  This show is just he best.

Arrow – While it is the older show, Arrow seems to have taken a page from Flash with its tone so far.  They are moving away from the brooding attempts to emulate the Nolan Batman movies and are moving more into superhero fun.  It is a great development, as long as the long term plotting is better than last season’s.


Supergirl – It was only the pilot, a pilot that I took the dirty pirate route to watching a few months ago, but this show is still looking really good.  It has the perfect tone, being upbeat and hopeful instead of dour and brooding like DC’s movies.  Hopefully the rest of the show it this good, and gets rid of some of the clunky dialogue that seems to be the result of being a TV pilot.

What I Read in October ‘15

I finished four books in October, and made some good progress on another pair.  I also read about a half dozen comic collections, enough that I’ve decided to do them as their own post this month.  I really wasn’t a fan of most of the books I read this month.  One was just not my thing, another kind of annoyed me and the last was simply not very good. Luckily, I had a new Mistborn book to make sure I was satisfied with at least one of them.

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Shadows of Self
Brandon Sanderson

This is the second Mistborn book set after the initial trilogy, starring the Wax and Wayne, who are essentially cowboys and Marasi as they try to stop a madman from throwing the city into chaos. The first book with these characters, The Alloy of Law, felt like a stand-alone tale just to see if this setting was viable.  This one feels like the start of a trilogy.  While there were certainly a few loose ends leftover in the first book, but this seems to put a lot of balls in the air.

This one has a really strong mystery angle, and spends a lot more time exploring elements of the Mistborn world that were left out of the last volume.  The three central characters are more strongly developed as well. Marasi feels like a character with a greater purpose and Wayne actually gets some development outside of being Wax’s sidekick.  Wax, though, grows more conflicted as the novel goes on. He deals directly with the world’s deity and faces a crisis that will make how he reacts in the next book very interesting.  While the methods of the book’s villain are monstrous, the longer the book goes on the better the motive’s for those actions seem.  It seems more and more that Wax and crew are fighting for a status quo that doesn’t really deserve defending.  Marasi seems like one of the few people to realize how messed up things are and have some ideas on how to effect change.

Shadows of Self ends up feeling kind of rushed compared to Sanderson’s more sprawling works, but it is still a wholly satisfying read that will be followed up on in just a few months.

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Death on the Nile
Agatha Christie

Another Hercule Poirot mystery.  For the first half of this book it was one of my favorite of Christie’s, just short of And Then There Were None.  Unfortunately, the further it goes along the less enjoyable it becomes.  It starts with a mostly sympathetic victim.  She had done something bad, but she is still appealing enough that her inevitable murder is tragic.  Set up on the same Nile tour as the victim are a handful of characters that are interesting in their own right and all have possible motives for murder.  When the veil is finally pulled away at the end, it is more disappointing than anything I can remember.  

It is just so obvious.  The only reason the reader might not guess the conclusion is that so much of the middle portion is deliberately misleading on the writer’s part.  There are parts that read like one continuous scene where later it is revealed that there are cuts.  As the book goes on the culprit seems clear, other than the fact that the person is on the list of people for whom committing the murder would be impossible.  As enjoyable as the rest of the book is how this book ends just wasn’t enjoyable.  

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At the Mountains of Madness
HP Lovecraft

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a horror guy. The closest I get to engaging with anything related to horror is playing the occasional video game or watching Ghostbusters or The Addams Family.  With those games, even something as tame as Resident Evil 4 has been known to force me to put down the controller and leave the room for a few minutes.  Despite this, when a book club I’m in decided to read some Lovecraft for our October book, I joined in.

It’s not scary.  There are some horrifying things happening in this book, but the view point is so remote that it has little effect.  His descriptions of the ancient cities with non-Euclidian architecture and unknown horrors create a sense of wonder, not dread.  There are plenty of terrible things that happen, but they mostly happen off the page.  The reader only really sees the results.  The reader is held as such a distance that the big events don’t have as big of an impact as they could.

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The Paper Magician
Charlie N Holmberg

The Paper Magician is a good set up in search of a story to make use of it.  It starts very strong, with young Ceony graduating from magic school and being forced into a field of magic in which she has no interest.  It does okay work setting up who Ceony is and starting to fill in how magic works in this series.  Her teacher, Emery Thane, is likewise an interesting guy.  Before the book can start doing developing anything other than Ceony starting to learn paper magic, a woman bursts into the house and rips Thane’s heart out of his chest.  


The bulk of the rest of the book has Ceony trying to retrieve his heart, having fashioned as short term replacement out of paper.  It ends up in an interesting section with her stuck in his real heart, trying to get out and having showdowns with an evil magician.  Her competence, though, comes almost out of nowhere.  She had just started training, how is she able to evade this very dangerous person.  She also decides she loves, which comes out of nowhere and raises a few alarms since he is supposed to be teaching her and is roughly twice her age.  It isn’t a bad book; I would consider picking up the rest of the series for the right price.  It just needs something more to the plot, developments that actually develop and don’t just happen out of nowhere.