Dune

Written By: Frank Herbert

Published By: Ace

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               When the latest film version of the Frank Herbert science fiction novel, Dune, hit the theaters, I listened to my friends’ enthusiasm and wondered at it.  My father had this book on our shelves when I was a kid and even though he let me read all of the J.R.R. Tolkien, Clive Cussler, and more, he never offered me Dune.  My friends wondered how I could be a science fiction fan without reading any of Herbert’s Dune series.  I commented on this to my significant other and, lo and behold, Dune ended up under the Christmas tree this year.

               Dune takes us to the desert planet of Arrakis, a dangerous planet whose chief export of spice is a lucrative business.  Spice can be used in many different ways: as fuel, as medicine, and more.  It is often used as a recreational drug that can offer heightened awareness.  For years, the Harkonnens have controlled the mining of spice, a rather difficult task as the greatest veins are often in the most dangerous areas of the desert, subject to raids by the desert people known as the Fremen and to spice worms, giant creatures attracted by noise and energy shields.  Unfortunately, it is due to those very issues that the Emperor decides to make a change.

               Liet Atreides and his family are chosen to journey from their water world of Caladan to Arrakis, a land where water is precious.  Liet is very wary of this new assignment.  He has a feeling that treachery is about and perhaps the Harkonnens will not let go of their spice operation willingly.  He has no idea how deep and how high up the treachery goes, but he has men in place that he can trust, a concubine with special Bene Gesserrit powers and their son, Paul, heir to the Atreides fortune and, if the Bene Gesserrit prophecies are to be believed, a very powerful young man.  Liet goes about attempting to fix what the Harkonnen’s have destroyed and earn the trust of the Fremen in an effort to create a better life for all living on Arrakis.

               But, alas, it isn’t meant to be.  Liet and most of his people are killed and Paul finds himself and his mother, Jessica, on the run.  They are discovered and saved by the Fremen, who believe that Paul is the one that has been prophesized about – the one that will bring balance to the planet of Arrakis.  The longer Paul is on Arrakis, the more expansive his powers become, offering him the ability to see into the future with his new spice-induced heightened awareness.  But bringing balance to Arrakis also means finding water in the most impossible places without letting the Harkonnens know that he is still alive.  Can Paul help the Fremen recreate their planet in their vision or will the Harkonnens and those they conspire with find and destroy all he has fought to build?

               As I first started reading this, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  At over 900 pages, Dune is a rather daunting brick-like novel to get through, especially the first few chapters which contain words and phrases lost on simple Earth creatures like myself.  As I got further into the novel, I began to see parallels between the people in the novel, their beliefs and the world around me.  That helped a bit.  Then the action took over and I was hooked.  Frank Herbert’s writing is extremely descriptive, and the action scenes were quite easy to picture in my mind’s eye.  Herbert has a way of writing his characters that gets the reader invested in their outcomes – the biggest to the smallest roles are important to the reader.  He weaves quite the web of deceit in this novel and one is never quite sure who Paul should trust, but we root for him to succeed at every twist and turn of the storyline. 

               Dune is more than a science fiction novel with a bit of action and suspense.  It is a social commentary on how human greed and consumption can destroy the very planet we live in.  The release of the film adaptation of this novel is quite timely.  One only hopes that the movie closely follows the book and that the lessons taught in the novel are not lost in translation.  I may never know why my father didn’t offer this book to read when I was younger, but I am truly glad I had the chance to read it now.  My friends were right – I never knew what I was missing.  Now that I do, I’ll have to get my hands on Frank Herbert’s other Dune novels! 

Buy Dune at Amazon

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Upgrade

Written By: Blake Crouch

Published By: Ballantine Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I am a very fast reader and love reading new and exciting books from authors I haven’t sampled before.  Recently, I was offered an opportunity to review a science fiction novel by Blake Crouch called Upgrade.  I wasn’t entirely certain what it was about, but I knew it involved fiddling around with the human genome to create a “better” human.  Based on the goings on in the world today, I was definitely interested in reading this book.

               Upgrade takes place in a future Earth in which the science of genetic engineering is considered dangerous thanks to past mistakes that have led to planetary devastation.  Logan Ramsay knows all about it firsthand – he was involved in his mother’s genetic engineering experiment that was designed to save the world’s grains but ended up destroying them instead.  Years later, Logan is now a member of a law enforcement agency that hunts down scientists performing illegal genetic engineering experiments as penance for his mother’s deeds. 

               While on one such hunt for illegal genetic scientist activity, Logan is ambushed.  When he comes to, he discovers that he has changed – his cognitive functions have been heightened and his healing powers have increased exponentially.  It isn’t long before Logan realizes that his genome has been hacked, but to what end?  Logan soon learns that his genetic upgrade has something to do with his mother’s legacy.  What’s worse – his upgrade is just the start of something big she had planned for the fate of humanity.  Should Logan intervene and prevent the evolution that is about to take place, or should he just lay back and enjoy the ride?

               As with a great many science fiction novels I have read in the past, Upgrade deals with the ethics of genetic engineering and the arrogance of humans.  This book is a tad different though based on the time in which it has been published.  This is an Earth that has endured COVID-19 and the various theories surrounding the virus.  At one point, it was thought that COVID-19 was genetically engineered, and this has yet to be proven or disproven.  We are living in a world where scientists are viewed with skepticism and distrust and Blake Crouch perfectly incorporates this all in his book.  He also does a great job displaying the arrogance that some higher intellects have – generally believing that they are the only ones with the right answers – that nurtures the skepticism and distrust in average citizens.

               Upgrade is an intelligent reader’s novel.  There are some complex ideas at play in this book and some readers might get lost in all of the genome, RNA, DNA, etc. talk if they are not up on the latest in genetic science.  That being said, there is great deal of action and intrigue to be had as well thanks to Logan’s law enforcement background, his sister’s military background and the unknown factor behind the upgrade.  No one can be trusted and everyone is a potential enemy until the final moments of the book. 

               I was left on the edge of my seat while Logan hunted down who was behind his upgrade and then tried to stop the upgrade from spreading.  You just never knew who was willing to go along with the conspiracy or what kind of new dangers Logan would find himself in while trying to level the playing field.  I read this book in a matter of a couple of days and loved every minute of it – perfect testimony to the exciting and descriptive writing style and storyline created by Blake Crouch.  Upgrade was definitely a fun read!

Check out Upgrade at Amazon

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The Dune Sketchbook

(Music from the Soundtrack)

Score By: Hans Zimmer

Distributed By: WaterTower Music

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               It’s been a while since I reviewed soundtrack music.  When I received an offer from WaterTower Music to review The Dune Sketchbook, I was hesitant.  I knew nothing about Dune – hadn’t read the book by Frank Herbert, hadn’t seen the movie.  However, things have changed.  I’m currently reading the novel and, as I hear it, the film this music was composed follows the book very closely.  I decided to check out the score.

               Dune is a science fiction film starring Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides, son of the Duke of Atreides (Oscar Isaac).  Having just moved to the desert planet of Arrakis, Paul is not quite sure what to make of his new home.  The land is harsh, but produces one of the world’s most sought after substances – spice, a substance that can be used as a number of things, including fuel, healing remedies and heightened cognition.  Paul has dreamed of things to come on this planet, but he could have never known that his family would be betrayed by the very people who placed them on this planet.  Now, Paul is on the run, hoping that an alliance with the people of the deep desert known as Fremen can keep him and his mother alive.  In the end, it may be that this alliance will bring revenge against the people who killed his father and seek to enslave the Fremen.

               The musical score of Dune was created by Hans Zimmer, an award-winning composer who has created musical scores for such notable films as Interstellar, Gladiator, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Lion King, the Pirates of the Caribbean and more.  Having worked with filmmaker Denis Villenueve before on Blade Runner 2049, Zimmer knew that their bond over the Dune novel would help them create the perfect film and score.  According to Zimmer, “I absolutely love working with Denis. He has an incredible imagination and offers so much soul within the complexity of making a film of this magnitude, and our aesthetic is very comparable. Dune has always been very close to both of our hearts. The task was to figure out how we were going to interpret something we truly loved and admired, and invite the audience to come and have their own personal experience. That was, for us, the reason to make this film.” 

               The Dune Sketchbook is one of three albums released in conjunction with the film.  Dune (The Original Musical Score) features music from the movie itself.  The Art and Soul of Dune is a companion soundtrack that features reimagined versions of the main themes of the film score.  The Dune Sketchbook features extended versions of the film score.

               The first track, Song of the Sisters, is quite the experience, featuring haunting female vocals singing in an unknown language.  The track sends chills up your spine as first you hear chanting, then full on singing that elevates as the track moves forward.  House Atreides is another one of those tracks that will captivate you, featuring a celtic style complete with bagpipes and celtic drumming.  It is a score that perfectly represents the House of Atreides, a family rich in history and pride.  The music used to describe the Fremen features the sound of shifting grains of sand, ethnic horns, mystical and sometimes harsh vocals and tribal drumming.  There is a hint of danger present among the Fremen and their lands and that is quite evident in the track Grains of Sand

               As I listened to The Dune Sketchbook, I tried to match it to the ideas I had of the Fremen, the Atreides and Arrakis in my mind gleaned from my reading of the novel.  I found that Hans Zimmer had done a great job in interpreting the characters, terrain and emotions of the novel into music that, I have no doubt, perfectly accompanies the visuals of the film.  Another excellent soundtrack from Hans Zimmer.

Buy The Dune Sketchbook at Amazon

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At the End of the Matinee

Written By: Keiichiro Hirano

Translated By: Juliet Winters Carpenter

Published By: Amazon Crossing

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               Last year, I was looking for something different to read.  Happily, Amazon was offering a bunch of books for free that I might want to check out.  They were by authors I had never heard of and varied in topic.  Score!  One of those novels was At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano.

               World-renowned classical guitarist Satoshi Makino was not looking for love.  In fact, he never expected to find it.  So in tune was he with his musical world, that Satoshi was not really looking forward to settling down and starting a family.  Then, Satoshi met Yoko Komine, a respected journalist who was attending his Tokyo concert.  As luck would have it, a mutual friend would invite Yoko to meet Satoshi and an amazing thing would take place.  The two would spend all evening into the morning discussing their views of the world, amongst other things.  When the night was over, they went their separate ways, but their thoughts lingered over that night.

               Yoko certainly wasn’t looking for love – she thought she had already found it and was engaged to marry a terrific man with a job in finance that would provide a much stable life than the one she was leading.  Yet, as she headed back towards her journalist job, covering the military action in Afghanistan, Yoko couldn’t seem to stop thinking of Satoshi.  Listening to his music during her downtime made her extremely happy and capable of forgetting the horrors she covered daily.  They continue to keep in touch, neither of them vocalizing their love for one another, perhaps not even realizing they were in love to begin with.

               Eventually, they would finally be brought together.  Realizing how they feel for one another, they begin making plans.  But both are haunted by recent experiences that hamper their happiness at beginning a life together.  And when a missed meeting ends up in a misunderstanding orchestrated by Satoshi’s secret admirer, is it possible that two people destined to be together will be forever kept apart?

               When I began reading this novel, I was surprised and a bit put off by the flowery writing style of Kelichiro Hirano, as interpreted by Juliet Winters Carpenter.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been – many Japanese writers have a flowery and descriptive writing style, but I was not expecting this from a romance novel.  I was also more than a little perturbed by the ending.  In fact, I put off reviewing this book after I read it, because I wasn’t quite sure how to take some of the content.  Then, I put the book aside, sat down and truly started to think about what I had just read.  I analyzed what the author was trying to convey to the audience and I realized something: I was looking at this book all wrong.

               The fact of the matter is that At the End of the Matinee was not simply a romance novel.  This was a philosopher’s romance novel with a message.  The novel invited the reader to debate with oneself the validity of love, a soulmate and whether events can conspire to keep one from actually being with their soulmate and still inspire happiness.  The open ending of this novel forces the reader to think about whether Satoshi and Yoko are truly soulmates and whether there is such a thing as destiny.  It forces one to think about the repercussions of love and those of love unrequited.  Can love be the object of one’s pain?  Shouldn’t love bring about one’s happiness?  All of these questions come to mind after putting the book down.

               In short, if you are looking for that easy-to-read straight forward romance novel, At the End of the Matinee is not what you are looking for.  But if you are looking for a romance novel that challenges you to think about all aspects of love – its best and worst attributes – then At the End of the Matinee is just what the doctor ordered.  My initial reaction after putting the book down was, “What did I just read?”  My thoughts after really analyzing what I read: “Wow, Kelichiro Hirnao is a genious!”

Check out At the End of the Matinee at Amazon

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Star Wars: Queen’s Hope

Written By: E.K. Johnston

Published By: Disney Publishing Worldwide

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I’m always on the lookout for Star Wars novels, no matter where they fall out on the timeline.  So, when Netgalley.com offered Star Wars: Queen’s Hope for review, I jumped at the opportunity.  I love learning more about Padmé Amidala and this novel would provide much more insight into the woman who was Queen of Naboo, became a formidable Republic Senator, married Anakin Skywalker and would eventually give birth to Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, heroes in their own right.

               Queen’s Hope takes place just after the Battle of Geonosis.  Anakin and Padmé have taken leave on Naboo, supposedly to recover from their injuries.  In reality, the two are about to consecrate their love for one another through marriage.  They must keep the wedding a secret for Anakin’s sake.  This is harder for Padme to do, considering how close she is to her handmaidens, but she is determined to protect Anakin and prevent him from being expelled from the Jedi.

               Their secret is put to the test when Padmé is sent on a secret mission and her handmaiden, Sabé, must take her place as Senator Amidala.  While Sabé learns what really happens behind the scenes in the Senate, Padmé sees the reality of the Clone Wars from the front lines of a planet that is not under the protection of the Republic.  Both women must make peace with their pasts before making decisions that will affect their lives and the lives of the very people they are trying to help. 

               When I started reading this novel, I had no idea that this was the third book in a trilogy.  How did I miss the other two?  Regardless, I was able to dive right in without too much confusion.  It’s about time someone decided to really offer a backstory for Padmé and her handmaidens.  I loved gaining insight into how Padmé became who she was and her relationship with the handmaidens in her service.  Who knew that, in addition to helping her in her daily activities, playing the bodyguard role, and serving as her double, these handmaidens had very specific tasks and missions all their own?  Sabé’s mission to free the enslaved on Tatooine, Rabé’s musical talents, Saché’s role as a politician in Naboo, and Yané’s mission to find homes for Naboo’s orphans – all speak to higher callings for the handmaidens of Naboo.

               Something readers will notice right away is the inclusiveness of this novel.  Yané and Saché have become partners in more ways than one.  A new handmaiden is referred to by the pronoun ‘they’.  This is all in an effort to provide all genders with someone they can look up to and to give others an understanding that different genders and sexual preferences are the norm in both the real world and the Star Wars Universe.  I have read some reviews in which people thought these views were being forced down their throats.  I feel that isn’t the case – more like the powers that be finally realized that they only showed heterosexuals and his or her genders in their novels.  How do you sell a book to someone who can’t recognize a part of themselves in any of the characters represented?

               As for the story, I was completely captivated by the whole thing.  There was something for everyone in here – romance, action, intrigue.  I enjoyed seeing the various characters reflecting on their moral beliefs and values in an effort to figure out what course of action they were about to take would be the correct one.  Sometimes, that meant giving up old grudges born from pain and anguish.  Sometimes it meant giving up everything you were trained to be for something you felt was an even greater calling.  The emotional and psychological drama was well-written for each character.  And of course, the sinisterness of the Emperor and his backdoor machinations are always there.  I liked the fact that we were able to see things from the Emperor’s point of view. 

               I loved that E.K. Johnston had studied the characters enough to write them perfectly.  I never felt like there was a discrepancy in the way any particular character behaved as opposed to how they behaved in the movies or other novels.  Johnston’s descriptiveness put you right in the story and I could picture all that was taking place in my mind’s eye.

               I found Star Wars: Queen’s Hope to be quite an enjoyable read.  I will now have to get my hands on the first two novels to enjoy the complete trilogy experience.

Check out Star Wars: Queen’s Hope at Amazon!

Happiness Is Opening Day

By Melissa Minners

            Football fans will scoff at me.  Hockey fans will snort.  Basketball and soccer fans will walk away in disgust.  I don’t care.  Opening day of the baseball season equals happiness and I don’t care who doesn’t share my opinion.  Each year, I mourn the last day of the baseball post-season.  Every year, I wait patiently for months until the day that pitchers and catchers head off to spring training.  I check out the scores of the spring training games, yearning for the first day of the official season.  I mark the date down on my calendar and count down until the fateful day when the new season will begin.

            And then it happens – opening day!  My heart soars with happiness in anticipation of the hour when the first ball will be thrown and the season will officially begin.  No matter where I am…no matter what I’m doing…no matter what time of the day the game takes place, I have to be there.  Of course, sometimes it’s physically impossible to be at the game – especially when it is played in another country.  But I don’t have to be there physically to relish in the joy and excitement that pervades the stadium, an infectious beast that taints every being in the ballpark and beyond.  No, all I have to have is a television, radio, or computer with streaming capability and I’m there, sharing in that excitement, that joy that comes with being a part of something reborn.

            The rebirth of the baseball season begins with the crack of the bat, the smack of a baseball hitting the leather mitt, the swoosh of someone sliding into base, the pounding of feet running the base paths, and the scraping of spiked shoes on dirt as players dig in.  It’s the umpire yelling the calls, the announcers’ banter, and the organ music inciting the crowd to roar.  It’s the very roar of that crowd that gets the juices flowing, the blood pumping, that sets the heart to soar. 

            To actually be in the park for opening day – to experience the sights, the sounds, the smells – is an opportunity I have never been fortunate to have.  But I have been to the park during the baseball season.  I have experienced the joy of coming to my favorite stadium and rooting my favorite team to victory, thousands of rabid fans by my side.  People I have never seen before suddenly become my best friend and we have rousing conversations about the team and the game at hand.  I once witnessed a baby speak what her parents would tell me was her very first word.  Clad in the blue and orange of the young family’s favorite team, the baby cried out, “Mets!”  The excitement of the crowd is just one thing that gets the blood racing at the ballpark.  The sounds of the game – the announcer’s voice echoing from everywhere in the stadium, the organ-player spurring on the crowd, the calling of venders as they hawk their wares up and down the aisles – and the smells and tastes of the game – hot dogs, roasted peanuts, Cracker Jack – all of these things combine to complete the incredible experience that is the game.  To see the players practicing before the game…to watch them play their hearts out – it’s an experience like no other.

            Ah, baseball!  To me there is no greater sport played!  Sure, there are grumblings…there are scandals, but no one can take away from me the beauty of opening day, a day when all is begun anew and hopes soar to their greatest heights.

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Nameless: Season 2

Written By: Dean Koontz

Published By: Amazon Publishing

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I read the first series of Nameless short books by Dean Koontz at the height of the pandemic, never imagining that there would be more, especially after that shocking ending.  But Koontz wasn’t done with the man known as Nameless and his handler, Ace of Diamonds, had a few more missions for Nameless to undertake.  So, I dove right in to Nameless Season 2.

               Ace of Diamonds has six more missions for Nameless.  First, in The Lost Soul of the City, he must stop a gun dealer from causing the destruction of multiple cities.  The mission takes place in a long forgotten Cold War bunker and only a stoic, teenage boy can get him there.  But this mission has a bunch of surprises and a vision that Nameless must decipher quickly before his companion loses his life.  Next is Gentle Is the Angel of Death, Nameless must put an end to a self-proclaimed Angel of Death, who takes advantage of the poor and underprivileged…people whose deaths no one would contest.

               The next mission, Kaleidoscope takes Nameless inside an underground business, but not all is what it seems in this mission.  Promised something easy, Nameless is taken aback by what occurs during this mission and begins to wonder if Ace of Diamonds, always so sure of how to handle a mission, is starting to slip up a bit.  The next book finds Nameless on a mission of his own.  In Light Has Weight but Darkness Does Not, Nameless looks to get some downtime, but vivid visions send him to an abandoned shopping mall to rescue a young woman and her daughter from some very evil men.

               In Corkscrew, a terror attack reported in the news causes Nameless to have visions of his past.  More and more of his memories are coming through and, as he searches for the people responsible for the terrorist act, he starts to realize that he may have dealt with these monsters before.  In his final mission, Zero In, Nameless must face the enemy of his past, a man who wants to create a new world order, systematically getting rid of all who don’t fit in his ideal society.  But in order to face this enemy, Nameless must know the truth about who he really is and must not only come to grips with crippling loss, but decide whether he is ready to move on from who he has become.

               Nameless: Season 2 is just as captivating as Season 1.  The intensity and edge of your seat suspense is still there, but this time around, you know more about who Nameless is than he does.  In the beginning, you were clueless to his backstory.  Now you know why he has chosen this path, even though he has chosen to forget who he once was.  The fact that Nameless must have his memories reinstated to deal with the enemy he has been searching for all along is an interesting concept, culminating in an ending to the series that I found to be a tad unexpected. 

               I enjoyed the twists and turns of the Nameless series and have no doubt that other Dean Koontz fans will find it right on par with his other suspense novels.

Check out Season 2 of Nameless at Amazon

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We Are the Troopers

Written By: Stephen Guinan

Published By: Hachette Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               Some time ago, I read Hail Mary, a book about the National Women’s Football League, something I never knew existed until I found that book.  It annoyed me that I never knew about women’s football.  I knew all about women’s baseball, tennis, golf and more and had learned all about Title IX in school.  So why hadn’t I learned about women in football?  Maybe that’s because there are still some people out there who believe women don’t have a place in such a rough tumble sport.  Well, I’m not one of those people, so when I found a book about the winningest team in the now defunct NWFL, I decided I would learn more about them.

               It all begins with a memory of the author, Stephen Guinan, seated in a high school cafeteria, innocently talking to another high school student who pronounced proudly that his father was the winningest coach in football.  What would at first be a confusing introduction for the author would go on to become a cultivated friendship with the Toledo Troopers waterboy, Guy Stout, son of the team’s coach, Mike Stout.  In becoming friends with Guy, Guinan would meet the team’s coach (who would become the head of the NWFL) and the members of the all-women squad who only ever lost one game in their nine-season history.

               We then are introduced to the players and their world.  Guinan lets us know that these were ordinary women – housewives, secretaries, factory workers, mothers, college students, etc., – who had a love for sports.  Some of them had never had the opportunity to take advantage of the Title IX rules as they were passed after they graduated from school.  Some only had the opportunity to play tennis or softball, never being given an opportunity to play such a physical sport that was deemed too physical for women to play.

               The women who would make up the team known as the Toledo Troopers were tough.  They had to be.  After all, most people – men and women both – couldn’t believe that anyone would allow a woman to play football, much less tackle football.  They didn’t have much in the way of uniforms at first, and what they did have doesn’t even come close to the standards of the sport today.  They played through concussions, broken bones, sprained ankles, torn ACLs, etc., all for the love of the sport.

               Guinan takes us every step of the way, from the gimmick thought up by a talent agency founder named Sid Friedman, through the takeover of the Troopers and their incorporation status, through the hardships that faced both the coach and the players, through their final tragedy and eventual disbandment.  He even goes so far as to let us know what many of the players are doing now.  Guinan’s writing is such that I actually cringed with every hit described in every game discussed.  I could feel the players’ anguish when they lost players or even on that fated day against the Dolls in which they acquired their only loss.  Reading about each and every player on the team the way Guinan described them made me want to meet these pioneers. 

               The women of the Toledo Troopers are not just pioneers, they are heroes, for they taught others that women can do anything they set their minds to.  We Are the Troopers is a well-written and engaging ode to these women who made history on the gridiron and in the hearts of every little girl who wondered to what heights they could soar.

Buy We Are the Troopers at Amazon

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The Chocolate Expo

Review By Melissa Minners

               On Sunday, March 13, 2022, I had an opportunity to visit an event I’ve wanted to check out for a few years now – The Chocolate Expo at the New Jersey Expo Center in Edison, NJ.  I’d been hearing about this collection of chocolate, cheese and wine vendors for some time now and never had an opportunity to attend, but this year would be different.  This year, I would buy my tickets in advance and get to the Expo Center early, ensured of a decent parking spot and a good place in line.  Trust me, I was going to need it!

               As we all waited in anticipation for the Expo to begin, we discussed the event with each other, mouths watering – the masked and unmasked, alike thinking of all of the wondrous chocolate creations hidden behind those double doors that we looked longingly toward.  The Chocolate Expo had been created in 2006 by Marvin Baum of Woodstock 35th Anniversary Celebration fame.  What had started out as a chocolate event to celebrate New York’s annual holiday celebration benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation turned into something more.  To quote the website, “The Chocolate Expo has become the largest chocolate event in the United States with spectacular locations in the New York metro region, plus more great locations being planned.”  I was just happy that I had tickets to the only day it would be appearing in my area this year.

               When the doors opened, we all filed in, some of the line heading over to the VIP Ticket Holder section to get their free, zippered and insulated Chocolate Expo shopping bag.  The rest of us began wandering the numerous aisles filled with vendors and their scrumptious samples.  We checked out tables filled with chocolate covered everything imaginable, truffles, chocolate-infused coffees and teas, cakes, even chocolate fountains!  We stopped at a number of tables and sampled quite a few different items, chocolate and non-chocolate. 

               I, for one, could not wait to hit the Baileys table, where the folks were handing out hot chocolate with shots of Baileys Irish Crème, topped with whipped cream and any other topping you chose.  I asked for chocolate sprinkles, not wanting to hold up the line for additional toppings.  And what a line there was!  We made certain to pass the folks on line, sipping on our Baileys Hot Chocolate with delight on our faces…and a little whipped cream as well.  There were other boozy creations there as well, such as spiked pudding shots and chocolate wine, but I was happy with my hot chocolate and decided to concentrate on the other delicious candies, cakes, and confections available.

               We stopped at Emalyn Sweets for their chocolate covered pretzels and Oreos.  We hit Barbara’s Kitchen for some homemade jams and jellies.  We stopped at Laurel’s Butter for an assortment pack of delicious nut butters.  We checked out 2 Chicks with Chocolate and were amazed at the hand painted truffles we found there.  I couldn’t help but purchase a pack of the most beautifully decorated truffles I had ever seen.  We even stopped at the Goodway Bakery table for one of the best banana rum cakes I have ever had – such a nice crunchy exterior and fluffy interior filled with a banana rum flavor.  YUM! 

               There are so many other tables we stopped at that I lost count.  All I know is that by the time we were ready to go home, we had sampled popcorn, nut butters, jams and chocolate creations, and purchased chocolate bars, truffles, peanut butter cups, nut butters, jellies, a rum cake, a specially decorated cupcake, chocolate covered pretzels, Bang Cookies (coming soon to a mall near you!) and more.  Loaded down with our wares and having toured the room at least three times, we decided it was time to go.  I only had two complaints about the event – it only took us 45 minutes to walk around the event area three times which tells me that there weren’t enough vendors.  My other complaint was that many of the vendors had nothing to do with chocolate – in my opinion, the event should be filled with what was promised when I bought the tickets – chocolate, wine and cheese creations – not knife vendors, newspaper subscription salesmen, home improvement salespersons, etc.

               That being said, we did have an awesome time at The Chocolate Expo and I wouldn’t mind going again the next time it makes it back to New Jersey.  For those of you who missed it, The Chocolate Expo is coming to the Cradle of Aviation Museum, located in Garden City, New York on March 27, 2022.  For more information regarding the event, locations, and ticket prices, visit The Chocolate Expo website at http://thechocolateexpo.com.

The Game of Thrones Finale

My Opinion

By Melissa Minners


Spoiler Alert: If you have not watched the entire Game of Thrones series through to the last episode of Season 8, don’t read this commentary as it will spoil the ending!

               Okay, spoiler alert out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.  I know I am late to the game, but I have just finished watching the Game of Thrones series finale and I struggle to understand what all of the fuss was about.  When this episode hit the air, people were freaking out.  Fans of the show demanded a rewrite of the ending, citing that the television series was a farce and that George R.R. Martin would have done a better job.  They even dared to say that this was not the ending that Mr. Martin would have wanted for his characters.

               First of all, how would they know what sort of ending Mr. Martin wanted for his characters?  The only ending that Martin was certain of was that Brandon Stark would be King.  He never truly stated what Brandon would be king of and he still has yet to publish any Game of Thrones novels past A Dance with Dragons.  Sure, he published a prequel, now being made into a television series, but we’ll get to that later.  So, without any input from Martin on the subject for two to three seasons, why would anyone presume that the series would have been better handled by him.  In fact, if those very same people had read any of the novels the series was based on, they would realize that the series did not always hold true to the novels.

               Now, before we get to the moment that everyone was jeering about, let’s discuss the ending of the other characters, shall we?  Though I found it sad that Jaime Lannister could not find happiness in the arms of Brienne of Tarth, it was utterly consistent of his character to want to be at Cersei’s side in the end.  Maybe he initially went there to talk sense into her, but the truth of the matter was that with Jaime, love trumped duty and he would always love his sister/lover, putting her first over most things.  Sansa Stark was not acting out of character in this final season, though many would like to say so.  In fact, if you were paying attention from the beginning, you would see it was well within Sansa’s character to want power.  Initially, she wanted to gain that power at a man’s side, but after having suffered at a men’s sides for so long, she has finally decided to take that power into her own hands, sans a male companion who could abuse or disrespect her.

               Arya Stark did break with character, right?  No, she did not.  Child Arya always dreamed of adventure and adult Arya has had many adventures thanks to her search for revenge.  But Arya has always been a fast learner and she has learned of the repercussions of a life lived in search of revenge.  When Sandor Clegane points to himself and tells her that he is the result of living one’s life in search of revenge, Arya has something of an epiphany.  What, after all, is the point of living one’s life to see others die.  Of all the people Arya has killed, none of their deaths have brought her joy.  Sure, she has been on an adventure, but when exactly did she get to enjoy such adventures?  As for Sandor, I actually cheered when he got his final revenge on his brother.  He had always said he would be the instrument of the Mountain’s death and he truly was, ending his own life in the process.  This was as it should be – when you spend your life seeking revenge on the one person who has been perceived to have destroyed yours, the ending is somewhat anticlimactic.  When that person is taken out, what do you have left?  Sandor would have suffered an emptiness in his life and would have wanted death to take him anyway.

               Brandon Stark is weird.  Yup, sure is.  But he can see the world and every possible conception of it, past, present and future.  You’d be weird, too.

               Okay, let’s get to it – did Daenerys Targaryen appear out of character in Season 8?  Were her actions against what she would have been known to do in the past to her enemy?  I would say that anyone who read Fire and Blood, the prequel story of the House Targaryen, you would say that this was not the case.  As the Targaryen’s interbred, it was likely that we would have issues with the genes of that line.  Thus, the Mad King.  This has happened in the timelines of Britain’s and France’s royalties and not so uncommon as one would think.  Plus, understanding how certain psychosis might work, it is not out of the question that this sort of thing might be inherited by the daughter of the Mad King.

               Now, that being said, let us think about all that has happened to Daenerys since the seventh season.  She has seen one of her children killed, brought back to life, and used against her and her people.  Tyrion Lannister, her Hand, has made serious tactical mistakes that have depleted her armies and caused her losses in battle, something she is definitely not used to.  Daenerys lost the one man who would love her despite anything she might have done in Jorah Mormont, who died protecting her just as he wanted to.  He says something to her as he dies, and though we may never know what that is, we know that it has had a profound effect on her.  She has learned that another man she has fallen for is actually her uncle and that he is not one for marrying family.  She has lost another of her children to Euron Greyjoy, the pirate champion of Cersei.  She has witnessed the beheading of her best friend Missandei, who, if you remember, told Daenerys to burn it all just before she was beheaded. 

               With all of this, Daenerys’ sanity has been hanging by a thread.  When she hears the bells toll, she knows that it means she cannot avenge those she has lost thanks to Cersei Lannister and that causes her to snap.  She is no longer content to simply destroy Cersei, she feels she must now destroy all Cersei and the people who killed her father, mother and siblings have strived to build.  Sure, many innocents will die, but she will not allow Cersei to use her love of the innocent to stop her from taking revenge for the House Targaryen, something she has dreamed of all her life. 

               But that snap is not the only moment in Daenerys’ loss of sanity.  That snap is just the beginning.  If you listen to her speech, you realize that Daenerys has become exactly what she riled against her entire life.  She hated slavery, yet she was prepared to enslave the world’s people to her own way of thinking.  As she told Jon Snow, if there are people who think their rule is wise and just, it doesn’t matter.  Under her rule, those people’s opinions won’t mean a thing, because they don’t get to choose what is right and just.  Only their Queen gets to do this.  And that is why Jon must kill her.  Having always been one who did what he thought was the right think for all, this was the only thing he could do.  Even Tyrion knew this. 

               Sure, everyone wanted to see Jon and Daenerys rule together in the finale, but that wouldn’t have been possible.  The moment Sansa told her that Winterfell would not be a part of Daenerys’ kingdom, Winterfell would have been destroyed and we all know Jon would not stand by idol for that.  We saw that Jon was a principled man when he left the love of his life, Ygritte, to fight with the Night’s Watch against the Wildlings, her own people and a people that Jon had grown to love.  He did so, because he felt it was the right thing to do, and I don’t think he ever regretted that decision.  Thus, Jon Snow certainly stayed true to character in spite of all he had been through. 

               And so, I say that the series finale of Game of Thrones was just about perfect.  It followed the storyline set into motion by the very people who created the television series in the first place.  It even followed some of the storyline set in motion by the novels upon which the series was based.  Now, George R.R. Martin is free to end the series the way he likes novel-wise, but I think he would be foolish to veer to far from the path chosen by the series writers.  Some of the fans may not like it, but most of those fans haven’t read any of the books upon which the series is based and just want things to end in their own romantic way.

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