“Changes” Review

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First off, I’d like to apologize for not having a blog up last week. I spent the majority of that time trying to read today’s book and also grab old episodes of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” following Jon’s departure. Having finished “Changes” finally, I still plan to try to keep reading more in the series, though I’ll be taking a slight detour by going into “Side Jobs” next. With that said, just what is this book about?

Harry’s life is thrown into disarray once again when his former girlfriend, Susan, returns to Chicago with some life-changing news. In light of this, he also discovers that the Red Court is hoping to negotiate peace with the White Council. But Harry suspects they have something up their sleeve when Duchess Arianna, who has it out for him, is the one trying to negotiate. Will Harry be able to put the Red Court down for good, or will he lose everything he cares about in the process?

As you all know, I’ve striven to make these reviews as spoiler-free as possible. The bad side to that is I can’t talk about a lot of major revelations/twists. Well, “Changes” is an apt title for this book, because many, many, MANY major things happen. I know from here on out it might be impossible NOT to spoil and I’ll warn you if that’s the case. I WILL say that I both liked and disliked this book for various reasons, some that I can talk about.

Susan’s role in the book and the news she brings Harry didn’t sit well with me throughout the story but especially in the beginning. I always liked Susan, but her re-introduction here felt…soap opera-y to me. She is involved with the Red Court plot and that was well done, but it was that initial dramatic entrance that left a bad taste in my mouth. I kinda wish Butcher hadn’t gone for the cliches and just had her strictly involved in the Red Court stuff. As for her exit from the book… There was strong reasoning behind it, but I ultimately felt unsatisfied overall with how her character was treated in this.

One thing I mentioned to my fiance was how despite being a “middle of Harry’s story” book, this one felt more like the end to his story. It was distracting at first, as his life is impacted severely and there were a few “cameos” of people who have helped him in the past. However, it was easy to get past, and I was glad the story kept up the tension and action. I’d complained about the last book that it was too slow to start, but this one ramps up from the very start and doesn’t let up hardly at all. That’s not to say the story felt rushed, though. It just had a ton of events going on throughout.

Since I can read these weeks at a time versus waiting for a new book to come out, I’ll mention that the ending to this book, while tying up a lot of things, does contain basically a cliffhanger (and a tease on top of that that irritated me personally). This cliffhanger is a major event for Dresden that I’ve been assured plays a big part in the next book, “Ghost Story.” This was one where I liked the context of it, but at the same time disliked that a cliffhanger was used. I can’t begin to imagine how readers felt having to wait a year or so before the next book to see what happens.

Overall, “Changes” is a good book despite my gripes with some of the plot developments in it. This book is/was a game-changer and I’m interested to see where the second half of the series goes. If you’ve been even remotely reading the series before this book, it’s definitely one that you can’t afford to miss.

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Farewell, Jon Stewart

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Since I failed to write a blog about Stephen Colbert and “The Colbert Report” leaving the Comedy Network/Comedy Central, I figured now was as good a time as any to at least bid a fond farewell to the man who kicked off the legacy of “The Daily Show”, Jon Stewart. I’ve watched the show on and off since my late teens and saw many correspondents come and go, but I never once put serious thought into the possibility that Jon would eventually leave as well. But that day has come and gone, and it’s gonna be weird to see another name attached to the show.

Watching Jon’s final hour-long episode last night was an emotional, nostalgic roller coaster for me. This is by no means a formal review, but I will start by saying that it was the perfect send-off for him. While I’ve watched plenty of comedy shows through my life, there was always something about Jon’s run on “The Daily Show” that appealed to me. His biting sarcasm, oftentimes straight man demeanor, and his hard-hitting interviews made me grow to love satire and even political humor (despite my dislike for politics). His relationships with many of the correspondents, both old and new, always came off fun and entertaining. That was clearly evident in the first segment of the final episode, and seeing many old but familiar faces interact with him one last time was a joy to watch. These men and women are just one testament to the behemoth Jon helped make the show into. Colbert’s heartfelt speech before the commercial break was right on the mark, and it was heartwarming to see Jon at his most humble through the entire show.

It was also nice to see the many hard-working men and women behind the scenes as well. I never realized just how many were involved until last night’s segment, but it was a nice touch and also very cool to see the studio in a full tour. Jon’s speech following that on digging for the truth past all the bullshit out there (his words, not mine) was pure Jon through and through. That’s the platform he built the show on underneath all the comedy. With him at the helm, the show really cemented itself as being more trusted than actual news networks (still sad when you think about it). Honestly, while I don’t know anything about Trevor Noah, I wish him all the best in hosting the show and hopefully keeping up that mindset. People need a reliable source that can cut through all the crap out there, even if it takes comedy to do it.

Jon’s final Moment of Zen, albeit one for himself, was a musical send-off by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. Okay, I admit, I had to check my sources on that, but my initial guess that it was Springsteen was right! Between the mini dance party and background clips from Jon’s 16 and a half-year tenure, it was a good way to end off such an emotional episode. I just know it’ll hit me hard once his name is replaced by Trevor’s on the show’s moniker, but I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting final show.

And now, despite still trying to recover from being emotionally drained, I have this to say:

Jon, thank you for 16+ years of dedication, hard work and laughs. I’ll miss tuning in at midnight and seeing you pop up on my TV, doodling on your script. Over the years, you’ve been an inspiration to me for your sheer tenacity during interviews and resilient attitude in the face of critics and disasters. You helped launch the careers of many great comedians whose work I’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy to this day. While “The Daily Show” will always be a huge part of your career, I wish you all the best in moving forward, whether you continue to entertain or decide to relax. From one appreciative fan out of many, take care, sir.

Jon-Stewart-Daily-Show-Goodbye-Hug

“Turn Coat” Review

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As I mentioned last week, this week’s blog is about “Turn Coat”, the 11th book in the “Dresden Files” series. To prepare myself and take a short break before the apparently crazy read I’m in for with the next book, “Changes”, next week will definitely be a non-Dresden update. Until then, let’s break down what this book has to offer.

Warden Morgan shows up at Harry’s apartment one day looking for sanctuary. He soon finds out that Morgan is a fugitive of the Council, having been accused of murdering one of the Senior Council’s members. But when Harry resolves to find the truth, he gets more than he bargained for when both the White Court and a powerful, shape-shifting skinwalker join the fray to hunt down Morgan. Even with the help of his closest allies, will Harry be able to solve the case and find the culprit, or will the Council ultimately fall into chaos?

 I’ll just say it now: I’m biased against this book. Yes, against it. I never liked Morgan as a character from day 1, and even by the book’s end my mind hadn’t changed much about that. Considering how much of the book revolves around him, I found a good chunk of it kind of a slog to get through. That wasn’t helped by the slow-ish pacing, but I’ll get to that later. It’s not technically a bad book, but I can safely say at this point that it’s far from being among my favorites.

There are a few things I did like about the book. There’s more progression with both the mysterious island Harry recently visited as well as the developing Black Council plot. This all comes into play during the book’s third act, which is by far my favorite part. The third act in general has, in order: a big, climatic battle on the island which also showcases some of the Senior Council members’ abilities, a wizard trial where the killer is unmasked, and some important aftermath details that I’m sure will definitely come into play later. For a book that started slow and gradually picked up, this whole chunk of it was definitely the highlight. Also, while the book had various baddies pop up here and there, my favorite was definitely the skinwalker. He was both scary and threatening with how strong and cunning he was, and I’ve always loved the idea of an ability to change into anything. There are some good battle scenes with him, though I prefer the one on the island.

I also liked some of the character developments that took place. Thomas, for example, spends most of the book MIA but comes back by the end in a dramatic fashion. I’m sure the repercussions of his disappearance may have an effect on a future story or two. Jim Butcher also gets the werewolves, lead by Billy, involved again and finally starts making more use of them in battle scenarios (Billy in particular gets the most development here for standing up to Dresden). But the most important developments come from both Harry and Morgan, both separately and toward each other. They mutually gain a bit more respect and understanding of each other, and Harry also learns to be more strategic when creating a plan. And, despite my gripes with Morgan, this is the book where he has the most growth and likability than any other in the series. Even if by the end he didn’t feel completely redeemed to me, I still appreciate that his character finally got some much-needed depth.

Now we come to the negative stuff. I already mentioned how the book started slow for me, though this still could be partially due to my bias against Morgan. However, I just felt the beginning 10 or so chapters didn’t have a whole lot going on. I know it’s mainly a mystery and has to take time to build up, but even for that it felt a little sluggish. Molly as usual returns to assist Dresden, and while I found her character tolerable through most of the story, there was one scene near the third act that I couldn’t stand. I understood the reasoning for it and some of the things she mentions come into play later, but it felt like a step back for her character.

But my biggest gripe aside from the heavy involvement of Morgan was the relationship between Harry and Anastasia. I don’t know if Jim Butcher intended for us to get attached to them or not, but I felt like they needed at least one more book before the events that occur in this one. I did like the role she ultimately played in the plot, but throughout the book and by the end, I just didn’t feel invested in what happens with them. With Susan, even before she was turned into a vampire, she was established and given a couple books to endear her to us. Here, the idea of Anastasia being a love interest for Harry gets some nods in the previous book, but only really plays out in this one. I just feel like it was a waste of potential.

Overall, “Turn Coat” was full of ups and downs for me personally. The third act was definitely worth getting to, but because of the slow-ish pace and major involvement of Morgan, it’s not a book I would revisit any time soon. At the very least, this book sets up some interesting details that may play out in other stories. Just be warned that the good stuff doesn’t really kick in till late into it.