Quarantine Post #11: Black Girl Hockey Club Trips

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If you have been following along in my blog this long, then you know that I am a huge hockey fan. (Let’s go Rangers.) Thank the Mighty Ducks for that. My friend (I shall call her Leah from now on.) messaged me and asked me if I wanted to take a trip with the Black Girl Hockey Club. I was so intrigued by this club… so I did what most people do… I googled them. The mission statement spoke to me.

The mission of the Black Girl Hockey Club is to inspire and sustain a passion for the game of hockey within the Black community, specifically with our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. To prevent exclusion in hockey based on race, gender, sexuality, or ability in the face of institutional racism, financial gatekeeping, and program access, the Black Girl Hockey Club provides education, scholarship opportunities, and community spaces that will give Black women access to hockey.

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There is nothing better than finding your people. Over the years, I kept my love of hockey to myself because it wasn’t viewed as the Black thing to do. One example that comes to mind is when my uncle asked me what I wanted for my birthday (I think I was about 10.) When I responded that I wanted a hockey jersey, he told me there were no black hockey players and that I need to pick something else. I had several friends in school that pointed out that black people like basketball and football. So it was a surprising conversation back in 2016. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup, and Leah was raving about it. When I mentioned that I was disappointed with the way things had turned out for the Rangers, Leah turned to me and asked, “Do you like hockey?” She and I had been friends for about 10 years before we discovered our mutual like for hockey.

Leah excitedly asked me if I had ever been to a hockey game. I had not for a combination of reasons. I had always wanted to go to a game, but I could not find a person to go with me; my friends were not even remotely interested. Not to mention, the team where I live was sold and moved to Canada. In 2017, I had decided I was going to try more new things, whether or not I could get people to join me. Whether it be crossing things off my bucket list or taking in new things to see if they were going to be added to my list of hobbies, I was going to give everything a try at least once.

I was totally down for anything this club had planned. (I promised that I was going to be more open-minded.) Leah was excited about it, and she usually has excellent judgment. So when she told me that she wanted to head to Nashville, TN with the Black Girl Hockey Club. They had a Black History Month event they wanted to put on. So I took time off of work, packed my things, and drove up to meet Leah in Nashville. (I will tell you guys right now that I enjoy signing up for events where there are a lot of activities that are planned out for the group. It takes the pressure off of me to find things to do.) I knew going into it that we would be watching the Predators game.

There was the Black History Month mobile bus that was sitting outside where I learned about Willie O’ree, the Jackie Robinson of Ice Hockey. It was fascinating to learn about the history of hockey and black people within that history. I think that discovering that Black hockey leagues existed before the National Hockey League, which began in November 1917, changed my outlook on the game and whether I could see myself outwardly being a hockey fan. I was fascinated to learn that The Colored Hockey League was established in Nova Scotia in 1895 and lasted until 1930. I was also fascinated by the number of people from different walks of coming together to watch a hockey game. On some level, I was annoyed that I had waited until 30 to take in my first game.

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I was so impressed with the group and what I was seeing, but I thought that this was going to be it. But I was wrong. We were bought inside the arena early in the morning. The arena allowed us to skate on the ice before the game. While it wasn’t my first-time ice skating, it had been a while since I had done so. (I think I was about 9/10 at summer camp, where they took the older kids to ice skate. My dad gave me some of the best advice then. “If you feel yourself falling, just do it. If you attempt to try and stop yourself, you will hurt yourself more.) For some reason, that was on my mind when we were handed our skates. Leah, who knows how to do all things, did not have any issues with skating. She was most amused that I was holding onto the rail. But she took excellent pictures.

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If you ever want to be entertained… watch me try and skate.

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Don’t we look like we are having fun? It should because we totally were. I did manage to get the hang of ice skating. (Shout out the Predators organization for allowing us to do that.) We were then shown the movie… Soul on Ice. A phenomenal documentary about the Coloured Hockey League and the history of Black players in ice hockey in the United States and Canada. I was so blown away by what I did not know. If you have not had a chance to check it out, definitely do so. We also got a chance to do a panel with the filmmaker Kwame Mason.

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And then onto the game. I loved every minute of it. I always enjoy going to sporting events and being with the crowd. I have very basic hobbies. I got to see and feel the rush of the crowd and eat the stadium food (which people hate, but I enjoyed it. It really doesn’t take much for me to enjoy it. It was overpriced though.) It was so surreal being in a place that you see on tv. The game was epic. The Predators were tied for a bit, and but lost in the end. No damper on the events though, because the fun didn’t stop there, though. They actually took us down to wait outside the locker rooms, where we were able to meet the players. (For a first hockey game, this takes the cake.) I got so many autographs. The peak was getting to meet P.K. Subban.

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It was a great meeting like-minded people and feeling like I belonged. It was funny because I am usually anxiety-ridden with groups of people, but here everyone was so nice and easy-going. They set me at ease. But I believe my favorite part of the trip came when we got to see the WNHL ALL STAR events. How woefully ignorant I was to the fact that the Women’s league even existed. Not only did I get to see the skills competition… but I also got to watch them compete. What was great was seeing Blake Bolden. (She became the first African-American player to compete in the National Women’s Hockey League in October 2015. Not so long ago.) She stands for all of the women in the club and all of the little black girls who have more than a passing interest hockey.

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It was an action-packed couple of days, and I am thrilled I went. I opened up to new experiences and had no downsides from it. Thank God for Renee and her coming up with this club. It definitely made me feel comfortable coming to a hockey game. I had a built-in entourage, and we all became friends over the weekend. It is a fond memory of mine.

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Because I had so much fun on our hockey trip to Nashville… (and I had been to Nashville twice before… but this trip will stand as my fondest memory for my time in the city.) when Leah called me and told me she was thinking about taking a trip to Pittsburgh to see the Penguins play, I wasn’t surprised. She knew she was going, it was just a matter of pulling her plans together. Does she drive? Does she fly? I was kind of jealous. I remember making the comment that I want to be would want to be front and center if the club had another event with the Rangers in NYC. That was when I got a resounding ‘Hold Please.’ (Usually, you hear the click-clack of keys or the 3 dots of an incoming message.) She informed me that a few days after meeting up in Pittsburgh… they would be heading to NYC for the next event. She was willing to extend her trip to accommodate my wants… (Get you a friend like her, y’all.) So in the end, it was decided… A week trip where we would fly (Delta not Southwest as I usually do.) into Pittsburgh, do hockey things, and then head to NYC and do more hockey things before heading home. There is nothing better than having a friend in the hospitality business. We knew where we were going to stay. (Thank Goodness.) The issue is we had about two months to wait. We bought 2 plane tickets to Pittsburgh, but we had not figured out how to get from Pittsburgh to NYC. Lucky for us, the further north you go, the easier it is to catch a train that heads into NYC (from anywhere). It was easy to find when it is named, the Pennsylvanian. The added bonus was that it was super cheap. (About $60 per person.)

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You’ll find that I am a sucker for the scenic approach, especially when I do not have to drive. Oddly enough, taking a long train ride was on my bucket list. Amtrak was great. They had a food car… I could stuff my face as much as I wanted, but they apparently also have plugs for all my electronic gear. (I really need to learn to travel lighter. More on that later. Just know… Poor Leah.) Also, keep in mind that Leah and I are not great at map reading. So it is always an adventure when we travel together, and her husband (the designated map reader) is not around.
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So this journey starts when we arrive at Hartsfield Jackson Airport. As much as I love to travel, I have only flown a handful of times. So each time, there is always something I do wrong. (Because I have had my share of crappy jobs in the past, I am used to not looking at flights as my mode of transportation. Now that I am into my career, I intend to change that as much as possible.) Leah has this down to a science, and she had the misfortune of traveling with me. Needless to say, at security, I had to take out my computer from the bookbag, take off my jacket, slip off my shoes, and walk through the metal detector. Well, I had my I.D. and debit card in my pocket… so I had to go back through… Then they made me take off my Apple Watch… and I had to go through again. (By this time… Leah, who believes I am right behind her… I am not. And won’t be for a minute.) By the way, this is by no means a critique of the workers at the airport. They were doing their job. I am so bad at this. But Leah, like the great friend she is, retrieved what she thought was all of my things… However… I was subject to a search of my carryon bookbag… because it was flagged in the scan… So I had to stand there while the very nice security lady pulled out all of my manga and went through it page by page. In the end, I had to redress and repack my bag. (To this day, Leah has not let me live that down. I promise I have prepared better for our next trip. I got a fire tablet and everything.)

We arrive in Pittsburgh after an uneventful flight. (Uneventful is how I prefer my flights.) We were comfortable, and I even got to watch the Big Bang Theory. I made Leah watch the first episode of “YOU.” I had forgotten that she watches things with her whole being. She had the nerve to scream at the end of episode 1. (If you haven’t seen that show, watch it. Probably not on a plane though.) We clamor off the plane and head to the help desk. The gentleman there was accommodating, highlighting what bus we needed to take to head in to get to our hotel as well as things to do and places to eat. We were in Pittsburgh for two days, so we had a LOT of time on our hands. One of the things Leah and I discussed before embarking on this trip was the difference in winter between where we live in the South vs. Northern winter. Walking out to the bus stop, the Pittsburgh cold air slapped me in the face. It is the kind of cold that settles in your bones. We were able to catch a series of buses to our hotel (Hyatt House Pittsburgh). Such a cozy room with excellent service.

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What is great about heading into a major city is there being sidewalks. (Trust me… they aren’t everywhere.) It makes it easier to get around without a car. We were able to walk to get food. (Some authentic Chinese food. It was fantastic.) I was enamored by Pittsburgh (The Steel City or The City of Bridges), so when we ubered to the PPG Paints Arena, I was vibrating with anticipation. It was fun to be apart of Leah’s dream. We got up pretty early because our schedules were sealed up tight. (Up early on vacation is hard work for me. Up early NOT on vacation is hard for me.)

img_9908The PPG Paints Arena wears its accomplishments for everyone to see. (The picture was early morning.) We met up with Renee and the crew inside, and we actually had a tour of the arena scheduled, but we were given breakfast first. Such great hospitality from the Penguins. Leah loved every minute of it. I was able to meet and greet with new hockey fans, who I had not seen in Nashville. People come together over food (and hockey.) There was a lot of talk about favorite teams, and the best places to visit in Pittsburgh. (We were mentally making a list.) The Penguins organization impressed me with all the work they had done/ are doing in the community. (More on that later.) What was funny was when they did a raffle, and they selected none other than Leah. How epic is that? I have never heard a person gasp so loud. Apparently, she never wins raffles. What did she win…? A ride on the Zamboni.

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We left breakfast and started the tour of the arena. Beautiful place. It is set up to where you can see the game from anywhere in the arena. It was fantastic. We got to go down and look at the chambers. It was so much fun, especially when Leah almost passed out when she saw Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby.  (The guy giving us a tour was talking and leave it to leave to cause a ruckus.) There was a lot of history in the rooms and I am glad that we got to experience that. It was once in a lifetime, especially for Leah.

Doesn’t Leah seem like she was right at home? I had to wonder if she was going to move/live there. But she claims it is too cold. And she wasn’t lying. The next trip up north (probably Toronto or someplace else in Canada…) I will have to buy a real coat. Anyways back to Leah… Something about those back to back championships makes her UNBEARABLE.

I was fascinated by the history and facts on the wall. They even had a breakdown of the changes to the uniforms. It was mostly a history of the years they had won the Stanley Cup. Being somewhat a new hockey fan, it wanted to soak up as much as possible. I was really more of an observer. What was great was how accommodating the whole organization was to the club.

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We were then turned loose on the NHL shop there. There is nothing better than doing damage on your favorite team’s gear. Besides, she needed some fresh gear for the game that evening. Leah and I are not the best at reigning each other in. She was traipsing around and adding things to her cart. (I was basically silent because I knew in NYC it would be my turn to run rampant.) She racked up $300 in no time. I am not mad. (The funny part is that her husband called right away to see what was going on.) We were then ushered to the next event.

We would be heading to an elementary school to work with some kids. Getting them interested in hockey. So we hopped on the shuttle bus over to the elementary school. Honestly, it was like déjà vu for me. It was something about walking through a school where most of the students look like you. There was a smaller ratio of students to teachers… and there were actually black teachers… (My first black teacher being in the 7th grade. And not a black male teacher until the 10th grade, auto tech class… not again until I was into my major in college. ) It was great to watch the kids (grades K-4) filing in and learning hockey skills… passing to teammates (moving and stationary.) and breaking into teams and playing floor hockey. The kids all seemed interested in learning and entertained. Leah ended up being a helper. That was after she and I were both interviewed. We were quoted in an article which we were blown away by… (I mean, who really cares what I think about anything?) By the time the kids went back to the classroom, she was worn out. Doesn’t she look it?

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We managed to head back to the hotel to change clothes. Leah had to gear up. What was great was that because we helped out at the elementary school, we got a free ticket to the game that night. (Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Philadelphia Flyers.) Nothing like a rivalry game to boost your spirits. I don’t think I have ever seen Leah so pumped about anything.

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When we arrived, it was interesting to watch the people questioning why we were there. And wanting to know what we were getting that they weren’t. (They weren’t even hiding their curiosity/jealousy.) The PPG Paints Arena and the Penguins got the Black Girl Hockey club an excellent spread of food and a free drink voucher. There was a lot of money saved on this trip. They gave us breakfast and a bit of dinner. So we were all set for puck drop. What was not fun was the weather… (because it was bitterly cold outside… there was no relief in the arena. I mean the ice has to stay cold. ) Screen Shot 2020-06-23 at 8.38.11 PM

But before puck drop, Leah had to go down to the ice for her Zamboni ride. (Luckily for me, I got to down rinkside as her plus one.) What was great (and I mean FANTASTIC) was the fact that we got to watch the warm-ups close up. You should have seen me with my face pressed up against the glass. The players, for their part, kept shooting the puck against the glass for their entertainment. Caught a lot of them laughing at our reaction. There is nothing better than seeing your favorite players up close. It was my job to take as many videos and pictures as possible. I imagine Leah loved every minute of it.

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I mean, you really couldn’t get any closer. After the warm-up was over, we were taken to the  Zamboni, where Leah was able to board and head on the ice… Can you say a once in a lifetime experience? Even though the Penguins aren’t my team… I understand how awesome this was. I will say I am not sure I knew how long a Zamboni ride was. Leah won the ride before the start of the game… and my goodness was she out there for what seemed like forever. Look at how happy she is.

Once the ride was over… we were ushered back to our seats… I had forgotten we had a whole game to go. There was so much excitement that happened in such a short period, I was already filled to the brim. Leah is the most interesting person to watch a game with, especially when it is her team. I don’t think I have watched one person go through so many emotions. The rivalry game was a close match, but the Penguins pulled out the win in the end. Leah and I had a spectacular time at the game and with the Black Girl Hockey Club. What sticks out in my mind is when I ran to the restroom, and I was stopped by another black woman and her friend who had not heard about the club. She wanted to know what I thought of it and where she could get more information. I, then, was able to introduce her Renee. This lady described my exact dilemma 2 years ago. Not being able to find friends to go with you as well as not feeling comfortable coming to a game by herself. She heard us cheering when Renee was interviewed. We gained new friends and members in the group.

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Leah and I were exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel, but the next day was a lot of site seeing in Pittsburgh. Leah and I were dead to the world in a minute. But when I was finally able to pull myself from the next day, I stated I wanted to head to the Carnegie Science Center because I am a big nerd. (They had a mummy exhibit. It was both weird and informative.) Only I would talk Leah into checking out mummies and being freaked out by it. It was cheaper than I thought… It was educational and fun. Good to be inside on a cold, rainy day. Leah was not all that impressed by the BodyWorks… mostly because it was too crowded. She mentioned a place where she lives… The U.S. National Whitewater Center. I can’t wait to visit.. if and when things get back to ‘normal.’ I may do a post in the future about that.

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What was spectacular about this was the Sports Complex that was next door. That was complete with a rock-climbing wall, ropes course/ziplining, and several other activities. The sports challenges were what entertained me the most. Seeing how you stacked up against track star Lauryn Williams in Olympic Sprint, testing your reaction speed against a hockey goalie (NEWSFLASH… I AM SLOW AS MOLASSES.) and testing your center of gravity on skateboard stability.. (I rocked this… I used to skateboard for a bit.) All in all, I worked up a serious appetite.

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We got many recommendations for Primanti Bros. In 2007, Primanti’s was named as one of “America’s Classic” restaurants. I needed a place to get a hot pastrami or hot corned beef sandwich. (I live for a hot sandwich.) We got listen to each story of people describing sandwiches with coleslaw and fries on them. As odd as that sounds (and I really don’t care for coleslaw.), we knew where we were headed. The place was jumping. It was definitely the place to grub in the city. If you are in town, definitely check it out. It is totally worth it. I don’t think I was hungry for the rest of the day.

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So after lunch, it was Leah’s turn to pick an event… and sure enough… She wanted to walk… (WHICH I HATE.. mostly because it was BITTERLY COLD. I have not experienced that kind of cold in years.) But we were headed to the Duquesne Incline. The Duquesne Incline is a fixed guideway transit system powered by cable traction, located near Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood and scaling Mt. Washington. 800 ft long and designed to incline at a 30-degree angle. So Leah and I are hoofing it, and OF COURSE, we get lost. We are following the GPS on our phones. This is when I starting ranting about her husband (the map reader) being worried about us…  Of course, we make it down to the water’s edge and where are we supposed to be? Across the bridge… on the other side of the river.

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It took us 10 minutes and to ask a stranger before we figured out there was a pedestrian lane that would take us across the river. Fun walk… It didn’t take us long before we got to the incline. We shuffle in from the cold weather, and we wanted to pay to ride to the top… The crotchety old lady working the ticketing booth pointed out that they only accepted cash. (SMH… I really need to get better at carrying cash… ) They allowed us an IOU. (We could ride to the top of the incline and use the ATM.) We piled in with a loud family whose dad thought it was hilarious to make jokes about the cable snapping and plummeting to our deaths. (Leah and I already have anxiety about various things, so this got old quickly, and he was worse on the way down. But we took some dope pictures of the city though. BEHOLD!

Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 9.13.21 PMScreen Shot 2020-06-24 at 10.16.44 PMScreen Shot 2020-06-24 at 10.16.24 PMWe ended up heading back to the hotel to get ready for our train ride the next day—a whole 9.5 hours from Pittsburgh to NYC. I had to pack my overstuffed bag and get ready to go. I again grumbled at being up early in the morning… (Which is Leah’s forte.) We got the uber to Union Station… (Leah is excellent at conjuring Ubers… I don’t even have the app on my phone. We had some weird uber drivers… one guy that was mad that Leah was a Pittsburgh fan… more so that his girlfriend had a thing for Sidney Crosby. He was cool with me though… since he was from NYC and I am a Rangers fan. That guy had a lot of anger towards hockey players.) Anyway, we board the train, and there was scarcely anyone on it. We didn’t even have to sit next to each other right away. (Each set of seats had a socket, and I had was able to watch my movies in peace.)Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 11.02.28 PM

There was something soothing in watching the snow-covered scenery go by. It was really like being on a puzzle box cover. There was either snow everywhere, or it was snowing. And I have not seen snow like that in ages. (It really doesn’t take much to please me. I had a moment of childhood nostalgia.) The issue with the Amtrak was that the ride was so long. (Nothing the company could do about. All of the people were super helpful.) But towards the last leg of the trip, more and more people were gathering on the train. A lot of people were traveling into NYC on a Sunday. (I knew this because most people work in Manhattan, even with living in other surrounding states.) I am sorry this picture is not great. (It is hard trying to capture something on a moving train.)

Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 8.51.39 AMWhen the train started becoming more and more crowded, the ride because less fun… also by the 6th hour… we were over it. (This is by no means a critique of Amtrak. The train was great, clean, the people are nice and helpful, and the food was reasonably priced.) It was mostly from sitting so long and not really being about to stretch our legs. (The train did stop and let everyone off in Philadelphia. We were able to get food and walk around for a bit.) The number of people on the train from Philly on into New Jersey almost doubled. By the time we got to NYC, we were done. Nothing better than getting out at Penn Station.

Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 11.31.11 AMHere is where we got lost. Being as though neither of us really took a subway as intricate as that in NYC… (The Amtrak doesn’t stop at Grand Central Station. If it had, then we would have had so much trouble. Our hotel was right next door to it.) But in total me fashion… I didn’t read the map correctly, and we rode the subway (luggage in all… crowded ass train…) a stop too many. When we finally got off at the correct stop, we walked in the wrong direction… because my GPS stopped working. (What kind of nonsense is that?) It was 45 minutes before I figured out that the hotel is not still 10 minutes away. My arms are about to fall off from carrying all my luggage, and I am way too sweaty because it is nowhere near as cold in NYC as it was in Pittsburgh… (It remained this way throughout our stay.) But we finally made it to the hotel room. Check out Leah airing her grievances.

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It was a great place. We even got to dine in the 16th floor Regency Club. There was great food out. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and I got to watch the Chiefs win while I scarfed down great food. (Now without Leah working in the hospitality business for a great hotel like the Hyatt… I wonder if we would have even been able to take this trip… much less have a hotel in Manhattan.) Here we were in the midst of everything. We could walk to Madison Square Garden. We had a whole day before the game Monday night, so it would be fun to see what we can get into before puck drop. We had finally made it to the city that never sleeps.

First things first, in the morning, we came back to the Regency Club for breakfast. Nice light spread before heading out to move about the city. I knew I needed a new Apple Watch. (What is great is that my job gives $300 to either gym memberships or some sort of health tracker.) Nothing better than finding out there was an Apple store in the middle of Grand Central Station… (If I had a million guesses, I would not have thought there was one in the train station.) Even with all that was going on and all the people crowded around, I was able to get help and for them to pick something for me fairly quickly. The only issue being the watch wasn’t charged. But I was able to trade in my old watch and pay and be on my way.

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While that was happening, though… Leah managed to take great pictures. She is taller and has longer arms than me… making her the best at taking selfies. (Poor Leah walks faster than me, so she spent the trip slowing down and waiting for me.

Anyways… I got my new watch, and we headed down 42nd St. With not really anything to do… I had shopping on my mind… and what better place to do that than in Times Square?  What I have missed living in the south, it the food stand on the street. When I was living here many years ago as a kid, my mother would always buy hot dogs that we would eat on the way somewhere… And I only remember there only being hot dog stands… Now walking down the street, I saw that you would get any sort of food on the street now. (Man, do I miss NYC… Great Food… I don’t miss the 9% sales tax.) But I was impressed by the variety of foods you could get. There is nothing better than seeing a smoothie cart.

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I was holding out for N.Y. style Pizza though… (Which we eventually got.) Walking down 42nd street… we eventually got to the New Public Library. This place has 92 locations and is the second-largest public library in the United States (behind the Library of Congress) and the third-largest in the world (behind the British Library). I read somewhere that they used to have a Subway Library initiative. The Subway Library gave New York City Subway riders access to e-books, excerpts, and short stories. It was cool to see it up close.

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We met up with a friend of Leah’s, got coffee, and headed out to Bryant Park to sit. (It was windy but not the ice-cold that it was in Pittsburgh.) It was nice to sit in the park. They had ice skating set up, but it was nice to sit and talk. It reminded me of the places where people meet to play chess.

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Once the visit was over… I had to come up with something else to do… (Remember when I mentioned liking to have events planned out for me… well winging it usually brings on anxiety.) What is funny is that before this trip, I was having a conversation with a manager at my job… (He lives in California.) He was telling me about a bookstore near him called Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore. He was telling me if I needed to order manga, he was willing to go pick it up and bring it with him when it stops by the job. Kinokuniya is the largest bookstore chain in Japan and has 80 bookstores overseas. What do I see when we are leaving Bryant Park? You guessed it.

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It was so weird because when you first walk in, it is very much like a Barnes and Noble or Borders. There were cookbooks, best sellers, Shakespeare, etc… So as much as I love bookstores, I was hoping for more. That was when I noticed the second floor. I took the elevator to the second floor and was greeted by this awesome mural…(I really need to start reading Vagabond…

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What is great is their manga collect is EPIC… I mean these collections were intact in their entirety. So not like Barnes and Noble in that way. (I remember looking for Noragami volumes to bring my collection up to speed. But after going to the five nearest B & N locations… they always have the same volumes on the shelf. 1,2,4, and 17. Yes, I know I can buy them online… but this was refreshing.) EVERY COLLECTION had EVERY VOLUME… I was in paradise. (Poor Leah… She let me wander about for a bit before she came to wrangle me. I couldn’t buy too many books. (remember how they did to me in the airport.) I walked away, only buying two things. But I know when I go back to NYC, that will be the first place that I stop by. The next stop was Times Square. I freaking love Times Square. (I was in search of a Modell’s… I needed a jersey to wear to the game.) Leah was looking to get souvenirs for her family.

We were able to find a place to get the wonderful I ❤ N.Y. shirts and hoodies for the family. It took us forever to find a Modell’s. My GPS is the worst. (There really is one on every corner… At least in Manhattan.) The first few we found were going out of business… so all of their merchandise was picked over. It is much easier to find sporting merchandise when you are in the same city your team plays. But of course, I was able to locate a Henrik Lundqvist jersey. (My fave goalie.) Much cheaper than I would have found at the garden… (NYC has a 9% sales tax… WTF man. LOL.) They had a sale on jerseys. I got a Yankees jersey too… (Aaron Judge). Bless the gentleman that helped Leah and me… he was so concerned about the price of the jersey. (He was way helpful.) I am sure he didn’t want to do all the work bringing it down off the wall only to have me say that it was too pricey… but I knew what I was getting into—nothing like finishing shopping with a New York slice of pizza. We bought two slices and 2 beef patties and went on our way. (The slices weren’t as big as I remember, but they were great.

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So with our many shopping bags in tow.. we marched back to the hotel with about 2.5 hours to rest before meeting up at the Garden. When gave time was upon us… we walked down 42nd street towards the arena. (It’s pretty easy to figure out on a game day. Everyone is wearing team colors or jerseys. Just follow them.) I have to reiterate… It is one thing to see a place on tv or continuously read about it. (One of my favorite concerts as a kid was NSYNC live from Madison Square Garden.) But being there was on another level.

We met up with the Black Girl Hockey Club, who had a panel discussion that they were doing for Black History Month. They were talking about black people in hockey and the Rangers outreach programs and bringing hockey to the inner city, and it was rounded off by a riveting Q and A session. (I think I enjoy going to these events during February. Anson Carter was there, and I hung on his every word.

After the Q & A, Leah and I got our pictures with Mr. Carter and headed towards the ice.

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Me sporting my rangers gear and Leah wearing her Dallas Star’s tee.

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We headed out to our seats, and I was glad to be able to come to this game. It was on my bucket list. But I feel like it was my last opportunity to watch Lundqvist play. Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of when he was drafted. He is almost 40. It seems like he would be retiring soon. So I viewed this as my last opportunity, and lucky for me, it was announced that he would be playing the game that night. We filed into our very excellent seats.  Got a great view of the ice.

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Let me tell you how excited I was. Not my first hockey game. (My third with the club if you have been following along.) But my first Rangers game. I was again sitting with the people from the club, and it felt like a safe space for me. Don’t I look happy?

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I loved watching my team play. Even though they lost. I enjoyed myself. I got to see Lundqvist and Georgiev. I was content with the trip as a whole at that point. The only kicker was going to the shops during the hockey game, and not finding all of the player’s merchandise. I asked the guy working there if they had a Marc Staal jersey, and I received a quizzical look. “Nah, he ain’t in here.” and I am thinking… “Why? He is out on the ice.” Dude just gave me a shrug. But nonetheless… I had fun, and I left with a puck.

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We left and managed to get dinner before heading back to the hotel—more pizza, more like Stromboli and meatballs.

I ended up having to go back to the hotel and pack my many bags… I was sad that the trip was over but glad that I was able to do it. We look forward to more trips in the future. I think our next hockey trip will be somewhere in Canada. (We imagine Toronto. I have never been but Leah has… So maybe we will pick something else.) It will depend on where the club goes next. But that is all I have for now. I will leave you guys with a picture of Leah and me in the LaGuardia airport on the way back home.

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Quarantine Post #10: My Top Bleach Moments

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In my previous Bleach post, I talked about what drew me to the awesome story that is Bleach. In this post, I am going to be talking about the awesome moments that stuck with me in both the anime and the manga. I am going to say that I wasn’t going to read the manga until the show came back and for a while there… things looked bleak. As a result, when I would tell people that I was waiting, I always got a weird look. I tried to draw it out on purpose. If I didn’t finish the manga, then it wasn’t over. (I know the logic is flawed, but that was me grasping at straws.) I had my friend (who turned me onto Bleach say… the story is over… no matter how long you hold onto it…. It is still over. He is so mean.) Through reading, I was able to relive some of my favorite moments from Bleach… and even add some new ones to the list.

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This is a list of the moments that I enjoyed in the show… what I was thinking and feeling at the time of taking it in and possibly how I feel looking back on it. It is Bleach, so it might get a little long-winded. If you don’t see a moment here you like… feel free to drop something in the comments. So in no particular order… Let’s jump in.

  1. Ichigo vs. Ulquiorra (Final Fight) – Here is a rematch that I found to be interesting because we saw both Ichigo and Ulquiorra take on beast-like forms. Throughout most of the fight, Ulquiorra has the upper hand having transformed into his release second Resurrección, an ability that he hasn’t even shown to Aizen… Ulquiorra blasts a hole in Ichigo’s chest and leaving him for dead… (Poor Orihime… having to watch her man be taken out like that.) She rushes over, looking to help him and desperately begs Ichigo for help. Somewhere in Ichigo’s soul, he, acknowledging Orihime’s cries, orders himself to get up and protect Orihime. With that command, his body is re-animated: not in his original form, but in a new Hollow form. THE VASTO LORDE! I was thinking… damn… everyone gets out of the way.
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    It then becomes a clash of the titans if you will. Ulquiorra is at a loss for words at how Ichigo is still alive, and really I was too. I mean, in the Hueco Mundo Arc alone, he was dead or close to death at least twice. Now, this new form of Ichigo’s gives us a brief glimpse of his latent powers. It is no wonder he fears his inner Hollow taking control. He doesn’t talk or respond to his friends. He just goes on a murderous rampage against Ulquiorra. He even stabs Uryu in the gut. In the end… Ulquiorra dies from his injuries, and that was mindblowing to me. Basically tore him apart.
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    The startled way Ichigo looks when he comes back to is chilling. He had no recollection of the events at all, and it was sad to watch him try and piece together what he had done. (I wasn’t sorry that Ulquiorra was dead though.)
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  2. Ichigo’s first Bankai / Ichigo vs. Byakuya – (You’ll have to forgive me… I watch these scenes a lot…) Everyone who has watched or read Bleach at some point remembers the moment when Ichigo unleashed his Bankai against Byakuya for the first time. It was EPIC. There is actually a lot that happens in this fight. We saw that Ichigo only trained 3 days for Bankai (Like Kisuke did. As it can take soul reapers 100s of years.), and we couldn’t wait to see how his Bankai was going to match with Byakuya’s Senbonzakura. We were not disappointed… (well, at least I wasn’t). We also see the first time Ichigo’s inner Hollow comes out. (Apparently, he wasn’t feeling Byakuya.) Ichigo comes at the man with everything, including the kitchen sink. (He has to because it is Rukia’s life on the line.) Byakuya is a proud man and doesn’t believe anyone like Ichigo could have a Bankai. Boy, was he wrong. Byakuya, not believing him, looks on in disbelief as Ichigo activates his Bankai, Tensa Zangetsu.
    Just know that the color spreads for this fight… WERE EPIC.
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    The result
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    The battle rages on from that point on. There is nothing better than when the MC gets in a little close and personal with their opponent. While Byakuya is busy assessing Ichigo’s Bankai… Ichigo closes the distance between them in the blink of an eye and puts the tip of his blade to Byakuya’s throat. (I was internally cheering…) It was a sight to behold. Especially the look on Byakuya’s face… screams that no one should be able to do this. And I enjoy it way too much.
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    Byakuya loses some of the advantages that come from his Shikai, and Ichigo becomes so fast that Senbonzakura Kageyoshi is unable to keep up with him. It was entertaining for me to watch Ichigo run circles around him. (He is a cocky bastard, and I love it.) Behold the power of Tensa Zangetsu.
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    Byakuya claims that he can use his hands to makes his blades fly faster, only to be cut down by Ichigo and Tensa Zangetsu. Poor Guy. You can tell that Byakuya is not used to people being able to dodge his blade and is at a loss for what to do.
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    In the end, it is when Byakuya unleashes his Bankai that Ichigo is really in trouble. At this point, Byakuya has figured out Tensa Zangetsu’s power and notes that Ichigo is moving slower. Byakuya stabs Ichigo in the foot and is preparing to deliver the finishing blow. Still, it’s Ichigo’s inner Hollow that stops the attack and mainly scares the shit out of Byakuya. Especially when Ichigo and his inner Hollow fight for control. I remember thinking (DAMN… That could be awesome or this could detrimental for my boy.)
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  3. Gin’s Death – To this day, I have no clue how to feel about his death. (It was a murder. Damn that Aizen.) Gin was a character that took me on an emotional rollercoaster because you never knew where his loyalties lie. (Ambiguous characters are interesting because I can’t predict anything about them.) Gin is no different. Gin is a very mysterious man. He has this weird smile and weird eyes that almost make him look snake-like and also makes it very difficult to discern his thoughts. Many find his demeanor and appearance rather unsettling, and there are very few who were willing to trust him even before he was revealed as a traitor. The issue is that we don’t really get his story until the end of the Arrancar arc. (Like finding out what happened to Kisuke. More on that later.) When Aizen shows his real character, Gin is among those side with him and leave the Soul Society. No one takes it harder than Rangiku, who had known him as a child. In the end, we learned that he intentionally got close to Aizen to kill him many years ago. When he and Rangiku get a chance to talk about his betrayal, he fights her and leaves her for “dead.” (You find out later that his motivation for getting close to Aizen was the way Aizen had attacked her when she was a child.) His plan backfires with Aizen seeing the attack coming and killing Gin in return. Poor Rangiku. I was sad for her, mostly. The man she knew (and loved) was looked at as a traitor to the Soul Society, and there is not a person that she can talk to about how she feels.
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  4. Kisuke’s Backstory – This was a classic piece of Kubo storytelling. It is excellent how each character is woven together. I enjoy having a passing thought about a character or event and then not getting the answer until later… (well after I have forgotten about it.) Kisuke is introduced as the owner of a convenience store that specializes in Soul Reaper items. (Should have been my first clue.) Kisuke is somewhat mysterious and deceptively intelligent. You never really know what he is thinking or planning. That’s why he will always be the most dangerous character to me. He can make people do his bidding. (Luckily, he is on our side.) When training Ichigo to head into the Soul Society, Ichigo incorrectly assumes that he can beat Kisuke because Kisuke is not a Soul Reaper. Kisuke reveals that he is, in fact, a Soul Reaper and that he will kill Ichigo if the boy doesn’t get serious about the training. Now… learning that Kisuke was a Soul Reaper wasn’t shocking… He had a lot of knowledge that an average person shouldn’t have… I do remember thinking, ‘I wonder why he spends his time in the real world.’ But the story carried on, and I pushed that thought to the back of my mind.
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    The kicker comes when they FINALLY reveal what happened to Kisuke. I was blown away to learn his role at the Soul Society and how his clash with Aizen landed him where we meet him at the beginning of the show/story. (I REPEAT BLOWN AWAY.) His backstory starts off with Kisuke becoming the new Captain of the Soul Society’s 12th Division. (So not only was he a soul reaper but he was a captain of soul reapers!) He is not well received because he is perceived to be a flake. We also learn that Urahara was head of the Onmitsukidō’s Detention Unit.
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    It is essentially him that transforms the 12th Division in the Research and Development department, which is met with hostility and derision mostly by his lieutenant Hiyori. Hiyori is loyal to the 12th Division’s former Captain, so she annoyed the shit out of me by not accepting or acknowledging Kisuke. (It is interesting to note that after everything unfolds… the Soul Society is entirely dependent on the 12th Division’s research in the present.) He is also responsible for removing Mayuri from the Maggot’s Nest. (Interesting when you know that it is Mayuri that takes over as Captain of the 12th once Kisuke leaves. What sets the ball in motion is 9 years later when Urahara was told by Shinji and Lieutenant Sōsuke Aizen (the bad guy) about a series of strange disappearances that had taken place within the Soul Society. Kisuke is talked into letting Hiyori help investigate, and it all culminates with Aizen being revealed to be testing out how to merge Soul Reapers with Hollow… a process called hollowification… With several captains and lieutenant, including Shinji, Kensei, and Hiyori, falling victim. There is no way to reverse the process…(More on that later.) Aizen is able to make it look as though the whole thing was Kisuke’s doing, and it is Kisuke who ends up taking the fall. He is swiftly tried, with no opportunity to defend himself. Kisuke was sentenced to be stripped of his Shinigami powers and exiled to the Human World. He is saved from that punishment by Yoruichi, who helps him escape. Kisuke, Tessai, and the eight Hollowfied victims escape to the Human World, where he is able to stabilize the victims but not undo the process. In the end, he opens the shop and eventually meets up with Kurosaki. I think though… If I was Kisuke… I would have watched the Soul Society crumble after they turned their back on me.
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  5. Ichigo meets White Ichigo – Ichigo meeting his inner Hollow gives new meaning to wrestling with your inner demons. (yes, I know who he really is. But gotta leave something for those who haven’t finished the manga.) Hollow Ichigo’s relationship with Ichigo represents the phrase “two sides of the same coin,” or (more appropriately) the philosophical concept of yin and yang. He is not like other hollows in the series, he is not the villain of the piece. He actually spends his time making Ichigo a better fighter. Although it is Hollow Ichigo’s presence that causes turmoil within Ichigo’s emotional state. (He wants to be ‘normal,’ and he doesn’t want to be shunned by his friends when they find out.)
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    Hollow Ichigo comes across as a very sadistic person with an insatiable appetite for battle. (Zaraki anyone?) He is the opposite of Ichigo in that during a fight, he often grins and laughs maniacally. Though he and Ichigo reside in the same soul, he refers to Ichigo as “king,” since Ichigo is the dominant person. He saves Ichigo’s life on a few occasions… (See Ichigo vs. Byakuya.) He makes it known on several occasions that he is just waiting for Ichigo to slip up so that he can take over control and do what he wants.
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    Hollow Ichigo makes his debut in Ichigo’s conscience after Ichigo receives a fatal blow in his fight with Kenpachi Zaraki. (More on that fight later.) Zangetsu, testing Ichigo’s faith in him, has him fight Hollow Ichigo using a regular katana while Hollow Ichigo gets to use Zangetsu. That cut deep. I actually thought Ichigo was forging an exceptional alliance with Zangetsu, which clearly wasn’t happening. Hollow Ichigo quickly overpowers Ichigo with Zangetsu. He criticized Ichigo for failing to strengthen his relationship with Zangetsu and relying too much on his own strength. (Soul Reapers are supposed to work together with their Zanpakutō, which can only happen if both parties trust and respect one another.) He berates Ichigo for not taking the time to get to know his Zanpakutō. This causes Ichigo to realize that he had indeed neglected his sword, much like Zaraki had. In the end, Ichigo is given another chance and returns to the fight with Zaraki with renewed understanding. The fun part was watching Ichigo try to fend of Hollow Ichigo from taking over during a battle. It was an exciting concept that is later turned on its head. (Also more on that later.)
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  6. The Visoreds help train Ichigo – This is a fun one mostly because the Visored thought that Ichigo’s inner Hollow was a joke. They were shown pretty quickly what the deal was. (I watch this scene a lot to laugh if I am having a bad day.) The Visoreds are Soul Reapers that have obtained hollow powers. (Remember the group of Soul Reapers that Aizen hollowified and blamed Kisuke for…? Yep. Here they are.) Visoreds are the result of when a Hollow enters the soul of a Soul Reaper and merges with their Zanpakutō. They, like Kisuke, were deemed traitors and meant to be destroyed but instead prove to be immensely helpful with helping Ichigo control his inner Hollow. The Visored being the only people who have had experience in this area. Since they started out as Soul Reapers, they actually look like ordinary Soul Reapers except when tapping into their hollow powers. To gain access to their Hollow powers, a Visored dons a Hollow mask. This allows them to augment their Soul Reaper abilities with Hollow powers as well as giving them access to some of the more generic Hollow abilities.
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    Ichigo discovers that there are others like him when he notices Shinji take down a hollow in Karakura town. Shinji tries to convince Ichigo to join their group, saying that only he can teach Ichigo how to control his Hollow form and keep it from taking over and destroying everything Ichigo cares about. Ichigo initially refuses Shinji’s offer but relents after realizing he can’t control his inner Hollow on his own. (He starts hearing his inner Hollow in his mind. That would freak anyone out.) When the training starts, Hiyori pushes Ichigo to use his Bankai, which he doesn’t want to do as he is afraid of losing control. (His inner Hollow is a constant state of emotional turmoil for our young hero. But I will touch more on that when I get to the Ichigo vs. Grimmjow part of our countdown.) Hiyori (even though she was getting on my nerves) was trying to goad him into changing so they all could see what they were dealing with. She begins attacking him with her mask, and Ichigo wonders how she can remain in control since he hasn’t been able to. As darkness covers his eyes, his Hollow, emerging, grabs Hiyori’s throat, breaking part of her mask, and starts choking her. (The Darkness was a wonderful touch by Kubo… I always love to watch him try to remain in control, and also I loved to see when his Hollow would feel the need to make an appearance.)
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    I was somewhat satisfied because Hiyori was talking a lot of shit… But she almost pissed herself when Hollow Ichigo does finally show himself. Luckily, the rest of her crew is there to help her. Springing into action, the other Visoreds pin Ichigo to the ground and break off Ichigo’s mask releasing the Hollows hold on him. Shinji tells Ichigo, who has regained control, he cannot control his inner Hollow with just his body and willpower alone. In the end, they force Ichigo back into his consciousness to have it out with his hollow. Ichigo is able to subdue the inner Hollow and they are able to coexist.
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  7. Aizen vs Ichigo – Many people have told me it was anti-climatic. But for me, it showed Ichigo being a badass. There was no fear. He is cool, calm, and collected as he battles Aizen. My only wish is that it could have lasted longer. He shows up just in time as Aizen was getting ready to hunt down all his friends. Aizen had already killed Gin. Ichigo shows up with his dad, he is taller, has longer hair (from his time in the Dangai. In case you all were wondering, I approve of the long hair.) and tells his friends to stay where they are. Poor Aizen had been terrorizing out heroes since the very beginning. So it was interesting to watch him at a loss finally. He struggles to figure out where Ichigo’s strength is coming from. It starts with the facepalm heard around the world.
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    Aizen spends much of the fight trying to figure out what Ichigo has done to make himself formidable. (The last time Aizen met Ichigo on the battlefield, our hero was shook. Scared into doing nothing.) That is not what you see here. Ichigo gives Aizen a run for his money. Aizen claims that Ichigo’s newfound power is nothing more than just physical enhancement. He points out that Ichigo is still far from being able to reach him. It would have been believable if Ichigo didn’t continue to show him up. What I remember is back when Ichigo first tried to attack Aizen…. And everyone laughed because his music was stopped… Here… Ichigo returns the favor.
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    Ichigo asks Aizen what he is so surprised about and if he is scared of seeing something he cannot understand or comprehend before his eyes. (Detached Ichigo is my fave.) Ichigo is finally tired of the games and decides to activate the Final Getsuga Tenshō. As Ichigo initiates the technique, Aizen expresses surprise at the new form he has taken. Ichigo reveals he will lose all of his Soul Reaper powers if he uses this technique. Enraged, Aizen states such a thing is impossible because a mere Human cannot surpass him. When the activation of Mugetsu is complete, it gets dark immediately. Surrounded by the darkness, Aizen plummets to the ground below. As the darkness dissipates, Ichigo realizes that his powers are already disappearing, but Aizen’s Zanpakutō begins to disintegrate. Aizen is sealed away by the spell that Kisuke hid within his body. (I have a super soft spot for Kisuke and I was totally in with the fact that he had something to do with the “end” of Aizen. What stands out to me is that he doesn’t shy away from the final technique even though he knew what the consequences were.
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  8. Ikkaku’s Bankai – Ikkaku really admires his Captain (Zaraki) and that is why is he in the 11th Division. He is rude and cocky at times but there is nothing better than when he poses as a high school student at Karakura High School. Ikkaku considers fighting fun and tries to get as much fun as he can out of it as he can, even taking deadly risks to drag out fights for as long as possible. He limits his skills in order to make fights last longer. It is understood that anyone who knows Bankai should be either a Lieutenant or Captain. After Aizen’s betrayal, he is asked by Renji to take the empty 5th Division Captain position. (Being as though he is the only other person who can use Bankai.) Ikkaku lets it be known he has no intention of telling anyone besides him (Renji) and Yumichika he is capable of Bankai. He plans to fight and die under Zaraki just as Renji plans to surpass Byakuya. When Grimmjow leads his first attack on the World of the Living, Ikkaku is left to fight one of Grimmjow’s Fracción. As the two fight, the Arrancar tells him if this is all he can do with his Zanpakutō, it would serve better as a waist ornament. (Rude.) Trying to goad him, the Arrancar states a Soul Reaper who refuses to release his Zanpakutō is a shame. I remember thinking if Ikkaku was ever going to reveal what his Bankai is. When the fight is taken to the sky, Ikkaku releases his Shikai, but the Arrancar smashes him into the ground, leaving a crater around him.
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    Withstanding the blow, Ikkaku lets him know that there was never a difference in their power. The funny thing was Ikkaku swearing the Arrancar to secrecy, before activating the Bankai. And I mean it is as great as I thought it would be.
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    As Ikkaku puts all of his strength into one final attack, the Arrancar does the same, and both fighters collide in a large explosion. Thank goodness he survived. I wondered after the Bankai was revealed, how he managed to keep that a secret.  Ikkaku’s Bankai breaks into pieces, and he falls to the ground below, followed by his opponent, who has lost his left arm and the left side of his abdomen. Arrancars know how to gloat too soon. Oh well.
  9. Yamamoto’s Last Stand – Another manga development that blew my mind. Yamaji is the quintessential anime old man. He is not to be played with. He could have destroyed Shunsui and Ukitake. He was the Captain of the First Division and also the Captain-Commander of the whole Gotei 13. Yamamoto is highly respected by most of the Soul Reaper. Yamamoto follows the laws and regulations of Soul Society to the letter and expects the same of others. He is not a man to tolerate insubordination and is vocal with those who attempt to act in such a manner. There were a few times that I disagreed with Yamaji but he is fair and can be counted on. He had a badass Bankai.
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    But when Ywach comes along, Yamaji finally looks as though he has been given a run for his money. The Sternritters invade the Soul Society Mayuri points out that the current state of affairs was because Yamaji failed to kill “that man” when he had the chance. Ywach finally brings out his sword against Yamaji… and Yamaji responds by activating his Bankai. It is a sword with a tremendous flame. So bad that across the Seireitei our resident ice king, Tōshirō Hitsugaya, notices his ice melting and the water disappearing from the atmosphere. Tōshirō goes onto state that Yamaji must be using his Bankai since Tōshirō can no longer use his own. (No wonder Yamaji hadn’t used his Bankai until now. People had a hard time seeing let alone breathing. Dangerous.) No one was more surprised than me when Yamaji calls forth a seemingly endless undead army.
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    Yamamoto destroyed  Ywach and is preparing to leave when he realizes the opponent he fought was an imitating Sternritter. The true Ywach shows up saying he had been down at Central 46 talking to Aizen to see if he could persuade him to join the Sternritters. As Yhwach waves his sword, a large sword made of spiritual energy falls from the sky. Bidding Yamamoto farewell, Yhwach attacks him. Yamamoto dies and I must say out of all the characters that could have died, I was not ready for this. (No matter how old he was.) Like he was supposedly the most powerful in the Soul Society… Yamaji was put down early in the arc. What the heck were the Soul Reapers supposed to do now? It cut me deeper because we were made to believe that he was winning.
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  10. Not Zangetsu? –  Here is a plot twist that shows up late in the manga. And I am mostly annoyed that I did not see this coming because the information is all there from the very beginning. (It is the most unsettling that when reading a story and you think you know something as a fact only to find out you are so totally wrong in the end.) In the beginning, Ichigo meets the Old man… who calls himself Zangetsu and, we, like Ichigo believe that he is the Soul Reaper’s Zanpakutō spirit while White Ichigo is his inner hollow. No one was more shocked than me when Ichigo learns the truth. (Insert GASP here.) During the Thousand Year Blood War, when his Zanpakutō is destroyed. The blade of Tensa Zangetsu is broken by Jugram Haschwalth. (I felt the despair in Ichigo’s eyes right here.)
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    To have a new sword forged, Ichigo and Renji travel to the Soul King Palace. There they are healed by the hot springs and then taken to Ōetsu Nimaiya’s palace, where he and Renji are forced to fight the Asauchi ( Zanpakutō of low-ranking Shinigami are called Asauchi and do not have names.) in order to have their Zanpakutō reforged. Three days later, Ichigo has failed to defeat the Asauchi and is sent back to the Human World by Nimaiya. After learning about his mother being a Quincy, and how she really died, Ichigo returns to Ōetsu Nimaiya’s palace where he finally chooses a new Zanpakutō. Ichigo watches as Nimaiya’s bodyguards help him forge Ichigo’s new Zanpakutō. When he questions Nimaiya about the nature of his forging, Ichigo learns the being who claimed to be Zangetsu is actually his Quincy powers and heavily resembles Yhwach from 1000 years ago. (When Ywach showed up on the scene, I thought… he looks familiar but I just thought it was a coincidence.) In Ichigo’s inner world, he demands answers from the old man… who we all believed was Zangetsu. In the end, he is told… the old man never told Ichigo his name was Zangetsu… and never was involved in any of this sword training… (White Ichigo ALWAYS DID THAT.) The old man reveals that Hollow Ichigo is his true Zanpakutō who Ichigo had been suppressing. Imagine my dismay to go back in my mind to when Ichigo was asking White Ichigo…. “Where is Zangetsu?” and getting the reply of… “What do you mean? I am Zangetsu?” We were told over and over again… but we didn’t listen. In the end, Ichigo gets two new blades. He now acknowledges both his Quincy powers and the real Zangetsu as being his Zanpakutō.
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  11. Kisuke’s Bankai – The ever-mysterious Kisuke has a Bankai… and that was known from the beginning. Ichigo is told that Kisuke developed a technique to learn Bankai in 3 days. He tested it out on himself first. So it wasn’t a secret. However, people (me) wanted to know what his Bankai was; what did it do? Interestingly enough I am not sure I even understood how his Shikai worked. Benihime is Kisuke’s crimson princess.
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    The Thousand-Year Blood War arc sees Kisuke back in the Soul Society working with Mayuri… having figured out how to recover stolen Bankai. Kisuke and a group of Soul Reapers reach the upper city and are confronted by Gerard Valkyrie. Kisuke departs from the group as they battle Gerard and heals the fallen Grimmjow. He ends up helping Yoruichi (that’s his wife.) He appears behind Yoruichi as she is being cornered by Askin Nakk Le Vaar, injecting an immunity strengthening drug into her rear end. (Askin can perfectly calculate the “absolute lethal dose” of any substance he consumes – the amount that will cause death without fail – and raise or lower that value as he sees fit, causing a lethal dosage of that substance.) At one point Askin attacks Kisuke and Kisuke loses both of his eyes. ( Like what the heck.) This prompts Kisuke to release his Bankai. Most of the Sternritter have intel already on certain Captain’s Bankai. Who don’t they have intel on? Kisuke. Kisuke will claim that it is his first time using it in front of the Quincy… but here we are at the end of the saga that is Bleach and I am just now learning what it does. (In the end, Kisuke is more of a thinker so it made sense to keep this a secret as much as possible.) Askin’s arm is suddenly split open. Kisuke praises him for realizing that his Bankai has a range before revealing that its power is to restructure anything it touches as the hands repair his eyes.
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    My immediate thought after reading this was when Sado wanted Kisuke to train him… Kisuke pushes it off on Renji because “his Bankai is not fit to train other people.” Of course, he was right.
  12. The First Kenpachi – This has to be one of the biggest plot twists for me. It occurs in the manga and I can’t wait to see it animated. Mostly because when we first meet Unohana is she the Captain of the 4th Division. The 4th Division is the medical/supply division. They are responsible for both treating the injured and doing most of the manual labor, such as cleaning the Seireitei. Unohana was the Soul Society’s best healer. She has a gentle and warm personality and is a soft-spoken, polite, and caring woman. Her character seems to be the exact opposite of Kenpachi Zaraki. But it is revealed during the Thousand Year Blood War Arc that she was the First ever Kenpachi. (MIND BLOWN. It also explains why people are so shook about her aura.) At some point, Shunsui meets with Central 46 and explains that she will be in charge of teaching Zaraki Zanjutsu, calling her the first Kenpachi.
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    All of the facts surrounding this character threw me for a loop. Unohana was known as the most diabolical criminal to ever exist in Soul Society. Yamamoto sought her out and she joined him, becoming one of the founding members of the Gotei 13. Unohana laid the foundations of what would be known as the 11th Division (Of which Zaraki later becomes the Captain) and became its first captain, as well as the first Kenpachi. The manga shows that sometime after becoming a captain, she took a mission to eliminate the warriors on the edges of Rukongai. Having lost interest in fighting, Unohana wandered from place to place in search of something that would please her sword and came across a young boy who would one day be known as Kenpachi Zaraki. Attacking her on sight, the boy was able to injure her, causing the woman to once again enjoy fighting. However, despite being the one left standing at the conclusion of their battle, she realized he was stronger and was better suited to become Kenpachi. In the end, Zaraki and Unohana do battle with deadly intent. Zaraki is meant to become more powerful and he does after he kills Unohana. (I will say if I had a million guesses, I would have never come up with that story for her.) I have reread the manga twice now and while there were small clues, there was no way anyone would have guessed this.
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  13. Regaining his Soul Reaper powers – This is where a lot of people complain about the manga/show. The fullbring arc is where Ichigo deals with a lot of emotional issues and for some people that is not fast-paced enough for readers or viewers. After the battle with Aizen, he is left with no spiritual power or awareness. He has a lot of emotional baggage stemming from his mother’s death. (Or at this point what he thinks he knows about his mother’s death.) The big thing becoming being able to protect his family and friends, and never having to experience another loss like his mother’s. Unfortunately for our hero, that causes him to trust some not very trustworthy characters. Ginjō tries to recruit Ichigo who initially turns him down. Ginjō alludes to the fact that there is a lot about his family and Kisuke that he doesn’t know. (Kisuke is very mysterious.) Ginjō states that Ichigo should take precautions while he still can. After Uryū is attacked, (by Ginjō, which Ichigo doesn’t know.) Ichigo allows himself to be trained by Ginjō’s gang. (Xcution.) It helped that Sado was there as well. Ginjō explains who and what full bringers are. (spiritually-aware humans born with the ability Fullbring, which allows them to manipulate the souls that reside in all physical matter. They differ from the Visoreds in that they each have a parent who survived a Hollow attack before they were born. As a result, traces of the Hollows’ power remained in their mothers’ bodies, which were then passed onto them at the moment of their birth. As a result, their powers more closely resemble a Hollow’s than those of a Soul Reaper.)
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    Kūgo explains that they wish to rid themselves of their unpleasant powers. He states that over the years of gathering Fullbringers, they realized that they can transfer their powers to a person who has the powers of both a human and a Soul Reaper. By giving their powers, some of their old allies were able to become normal humans. They want Ichigo to regain his Soul Reaper powers so they can become human again. Something about their want to help him regain his soul reaper powers did not sit right with me. Tsukishima shows up to Orihime’s claiming to have attacked Uryu. When Orihime goes to use her powers, he attacks her from behind and slices through her body with Book of the End, leaving no visible wound. Later, he barges into the Xcution hideout to stir up trouble. Ginjō seems surprised and the two come to blows and Ichigo jumps in to help defend Ginjō. As everyone leaves, Tsukishima attacks Sado, piercing him, but leaving no mark. When Ichigo returns home from his training, Yuzu (his sister) confronts him at the door and says they have a surprise guest. She takes him to the room that the guest is waiting in and tells Ichigo it is cousin Shū and Ichigo is horrified because he is staring at Tsukishima. (When I tell you guys, I screamed. This man has manipulated Ichigo’s friends and family.)
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    Tsukishima greets the shocked Ichigo and says it has been a while. His sister says she bets Ichigo is totally surprised as they have not seen him since Grandpa Rin’s funeral and it brings back memories. When Ichigo attacks, his friends and family chide him and side with the villain. Orihime and Sado even jump in and oppose him. In the end, both Tsukishima and Ginjō reveal that they teamed up. Ginjō reveals that it was really he who attacked Uryu and he stabs Ichigo in the chest stealing his fullbring. When Ginjō withdraws his blade from Ichigo’s chest, Ichigo’s fullbring disappears. Ichigo is left thinking about how hard it was for him to go seventeen months without any power, and when he thought he found a way, he was so happy he could protect his friends again. When a distraught (and I do mean distraught.) Ichigo asks Ginjō to give his power back, Ginjō states it was the power he gave to Ichigo, and it belongs to him. (You can feel the heartbreak here, and you know that Ichigo has been grasping at straws, pretending to be okay with having no powers.)
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    Ginjō gloats a bit too early though, he is ridiculed by a group of Soul Reapers who suddenly arrive and explain that they all gave their Reiatsu to restore Ichigo’s power. Rukia stabs Ichigo in the back to restore his power. Rukia explains that it was impossible for him to steal Ichigo’s Soul Reaper powers. Ichigo then begins to fight Kūgo.
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  14. Ichigo vs. Grimmjow (Final Fight) – This is easily my favorite fight of the series. Mostly because it is laden with emotional turmoil, and it gave me Ichigo/Orihime moment that I wanted. The rivalry between Ichigo and Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez is one of the most intense. In preparation for their third and final battle, Grimmjow pulls all the stops to make sure he and Ichigo can fight at their full strength.  There is a lot that goes into this battle. Orihime is kidnapped by Ulquiorra. She is given 24 hours to say goodbye to one person. She chooses Ichigo… (Surprise, Surprise.) She admits that if she had been given 5 lives, she would have fallen in love with the same person 5 times. (Kurosaki). When she disappears, it is Ichigo who realizes that she was in his room. She is labeled a traitor by the Soul Society, and they are forbidden to go and save her… But Kurosaki says he knows her and knows that she isn’t a traitor, so he is going to get her. Aside from that… Grimmjow and Ichigo already clashed twice which resulted in Ichigo getting his ass handed to him except briefly when Hollow Ichigo took over giving Grimmjow and run for his money. Grimmjow craves an ultimate clash at full strength to prove that he is the superior being. After Ichigo’s battle with Ulquiorra leaves him with a hole in his chest, Grimmjow forces Orihime to heal him so they can fight. When she refuses he threatens to kill her. It is then that Ichigo lets him know to keep his hands off of her. (Inner me is squealing.)
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    Resolved to fight Grimmjow, Ichigo asks Orihime Inoue to heal his injuries. He also tells Grimmjow that they should fight elsewhere. (So that Orihime isn’t caught up in the shock.) When the battle begins, the force of their attacks tears up the ground around them. As the force of their two attacks creates a large explosion, Grimmjow is laughing maniacally and professes his excitement over the chance to finally crush Ichigo. (Grimmjow is my favorite espada. There is something about a in your face badass.) Grimmjow charges a Gran Rey Cero, hoping it will provoke Ichigo into using his full power. Ichigo notices that Orihime and Nel could be hit by the attack and yells for Grimmjow to stop but Grimmjow launches the attack anyway. Though the massive Cero inflicts an immense amount of damage to the surrounding structures, Ichigo protects Orihime and Nel by donning his Hollow mask and getting in the way of the attack. (Now here’s where things get interesting. By interesting I mean… where the emotional turmoil starts.) Ichigo is standing with his back to her when he tells her that she needs to put on her protective shield. She knows there is something different about him. When she calls out to him, he turns slightly because he doesn’t want her to see his hollow mask. (At the beginning of the show, Orihime is attacked by her brother who is a hollow and wearing the same type of mask. It is Ichigo who saves her from her brother.) Since he never explained to her (or any of his friends) about his inner hollow… this is her first time seeing him this way.) She is not quite sure what she is seeing. He tells her there is no need to be afraid and that he is going to take care of Grimmjow. (Here he is in the middle of the battle with an opponent that wants to take his head off and he is worried about whether or not Orihime sees him as some sort of monster.) When Orihime doesn’t respond, Ichigo returns to his fight as Grimmjow’s Resurrección, Pantera, is revealed.
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    Grimmjow, in this battle, is magnificent. He is chasing the ultimate battle which he feels he can get if Ichigo fights with everything he has. It is alluded to that amongst the other Espada he can’t get that. As the two continue to clash, Grimmjow, overpowering Ichigo, slams him into a pillar. He noticed that Ichigo has somehow extended the amount of time he can use his mask, (in the previous battle… Ichigo’s mask broke leaving him to lose that fight.) Grimmjow points out that Ichigo either trained or he somehow got stronger during their fight. Not caring either way, Grimmjow determines if Ichigo’s mask breaks, the fight would become very boring. As he thrusts his claw towards the mask, Ichigo catches his hand before the blow can connect. (What is great about this fight is also the exchange that of shit-talking going on. Ichigo is back with his witty remarks.)
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    At one point Grimmjow, who has dodges Ichigo’s next attack points his elbow at Ichigo and launches five missiles at him. Ichigo dodges these easily before realizing that they are headed directly for Orihime. He puts himself on the line to save her… taking the 5 missiles to the back. When he looks up at Orihime, she recoils in fear of his masked appearance. You can see the hurt in his eyes at her reaction. He darts away and back to the fight.
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It gets worse for Ichigo as he starts getting beat up… He is attempting to keep his distance from her. It is very apparent that his mind is more with Orihime than the fight. (One of the things that are touched on throughout the show is how Ichigo is not really accepting of his inner Hollow. He seems somewhat ashamed of it.) He worries about losing control and hurting those he holds dear but he also worries that he will lose people close to him because they are scared of him. He thinks they will feel he is a monster. In Orihime’s case, she is slightly taken aback… but she is not afraid of him. She is reminded of her brother’s attack but she’s didn’t run away. (She probably would have had a better reaction if he had told those closest to him in the beginning but I digress.) With the battle raging on… Nel talks some sense into Orihime, telling her that she needs to cheer Ichigo on. He is here doing battle to protect her. Grimmjow thinks the battle is over because Ichigo’s mask is quickly fading. From the pillar, Orihime yells down to Ichigo. She tells him to not die and not get hurt any more than he already has.

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Talk about giving your man the strength to continue. Hearing this. Ichigo stops Ichigo’s next attack (WHO IS SCREAMING…? NOT ME. Also who attacks a person when they aren’t looking. I love Grimmjow but come on sir. ) Ichigo tells him he is not allowed to sustain any more damage. (Why? Because Orihime can’t take it. Again, who wants to watch that? I make you better only for you to return to me bloodied and broken.)  With Grimmjow wide open, Ichigo slashes him down the chest.
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This is not the end though as Ichigo lowers his blade, Grimmjow grabs onto it. Angry at how Ichigo thought such an attack could defeat him, Grimmjow stabs his abdomen with his claws before pulling away. My favorite Grimmjow line is when he talks about how much he hates Ichigo’s eyes. Grimmjow states that regardless of many times Ichigo is beat down, they give the impression Ichigo still thinks he can win. Enraged by this, Grimmjow attacks Ichigo once more. Blocking the first two attacks, Ichigo mockingly asks if Grimmjow is angry because a mere Human is looking at him as if he were an equal. Grimmjow kicks Ichigo’s stomach, knocking him up into the air, and declares regardless of whether somebody is a Human, Shinigami, or Arrancar, he will crush everybody who looks down on him. Ichigo, piercing one of Grimmjow’s massive energy claws with his blade, completely shatters it with a single swing. Ichigo tells Grimmjow he is not the only one who wants to win, and he is his first target.  Ichigo finally admits he came to Hueco Mundo to fight and defeat Grimmjow, but he also intends to defeat Ulquiorra and Aizen, as well as bring back Rukia, Sado, Uryū, Lieutenant Renji, and Orihime. Stating Grimmjow is just one person who cannot defeat him, Ichigo, breaking through the rest of the energy claws, impales him with Tensa Zangetsu.
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I am going to stop writing now. You can tell I have a love for all things Bleach. Please watch it if you haven’t seen it. Read it. Get prepared for more anime in 2021. I am laughing because this post took me a long time to write… I could have really just put ALL THE THINGS… and left it at that. Anyways… enough for now.

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Quarantine Post #9: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

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I had a friend who used to live near me who started an anime night. Her husband was very adamant about watching awesome anime… (He doesn’t really like the battle Shonen that I enjoy watching.) But as you guys know I am traipsing through old anime having been away for a long time. My friends made some awesome recommendations and FMA:B ended up being something they wanted to watch with me. (They had already seen it… It was more for their entertainment than anything else.) I had to make an adjustment because I don’t normally watch dubbed but my friends are solely dub watchers. The dub cast was awesome and only added to my awesome experience.

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On a side note, I went to a nearby bookstore wearing my new anime t-shirt with Roy Mustang (The Flame Alchemist) on it. And I remember to this day, the store clerk asked me if I watched the original FMA or the revamping of brotherhood… Now when it comes to anime I trust two people (one of which is my friend’s husband who recommended it.) But I was 300% sure of my decision when I figured out that this story was closer to the manga… than the original story. For some reason, the guy was irritated that I pointed out I would prefer to watch something that more closely resembles the original story… he seemed like he wanted to argue the point… LOL… good times with anime nerds. Anyways let’s break into what the story is about…

Edward and Alphonse Elric live with their mother Trisha in the village of Resembool in the country of Amestris. Their father, Hohenheim, left his family while the boys were young. Trisha noticed the boys had an aptitude for Alchemy. When their mother dies, they live with their best friend Winry Rockbell, and her grandmother Pinako. The boys traveled the world to advance their alchemic training under Izumi Curtis. When they return home, the two decide to try to bring their mother back to life with alchemy. However, human transmutation is a taboo, as it is impossible to do so properly. Edward explains why human transmutation is looked upon negatively.

Alchemy; the science of understanding the structure of matter, breaking it down, then reconstructing it as something else. It can even make gold from lead. But alchemy is a science, so it must follow the natural laws: To create, something of equal value must be lost. This is the principle of Equivalent Exchange. But on that night, I learned the value of some things can’t be measured on a simple scale. My brother and I knew the laws of science, of Equivalent Exchange, that gain required sacrifice, that something had to be taken from us. But we thought there was nothing more we could lose, we were wrong…” – Edward Elric

Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world’s one, and only truth.” – Alphonse Elric

The laws of equivalent exchange leave Ed without his left leg and Alphonse is completely obliterated. (It is a horrendous scene to watch and to this day I have not rewatched it… You can tell right away that the boys realized they fucked up big time but the damage is done. There has been a lot of scenes that I have rewatched millions of times but not that one.) In a last-ditch attempt to keep his brother alive, Ed sacrifices his right arm to bring Al’s soul back and houses it in a nearby suit of armor. (It cost him an arm and a leg… I know. I’m sorry.) Later, Ed manages life with automail prosthetics. Automail limbs are generally made with a full steel skeletal frame layered with steel armor-plating to protect the various wires and intricate machinery inside. They are normally linked directly to the nervous system and powered by taking electrical pulses from the nerves to power and regulate the various electric motors and pneumatic actuators inside. Automail became advanced enough to double as prosthetic body parts for amputees desiring something more versatile than normal prosthetic limbs.

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The brothers decided to burn down their childhood home and head to the state capital to become a state-sanctioned alchemist. After passing the exam, Ed is dubbed the “Fullmetal Alchemist” by the State Military (mostly because of the aforementioned automail… The running gag becomes the assumption that Alphonse is the Full Metal Alchemist because of the suit of armor. Hilarious.), and the brothers begin their quest to regain their full bodies back through the fabled Philosopher’s Stone under the direction of Colonel Roy Mustang. (Colonel Mustang is my favorite character. You will notice that he appears on this countdown many times. You have been warned. Don’t be surprised.) Along the way, they discover a deep government conspiracy to hide the true nature of the Philosopher’s Stone that involves the homunculi, the alchemists of the neighboring nation of Xing, the scarred man from the war-torn nation of Ishval, and their own father’s past. (And OMG when I tell you their father has the past of all pasts.)

So I have made a list of my top moments from Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. *SPOILERS* In no particular order…

  1. Ed and Al attempt a human transmutation – Now as I have mentioned before I haven’t watched this scene again… it has left that kind of profound mark on me. Two kids should not have to learn that hard of a lesson. The scene is punctuated with the idea that the brothers were lonely and just wanted to have their mother back again. I think what scarred me the most was Ed’s realization that Alphonse is gone and having to draw a transmutation circle with his own blood. (HIS OWN BLOOD PEOPLE.) Ed is desperate not to lose the only other person close to him. “Give him back, he’s my brother! Take my leg! Take my arm! Take my heart! Anything! You can have it! Just give him back! He’s my little brother! He’s all I have left!” (I just gave myself chills. This happens at the beginning of the series. It hits hard and heavy right out the gate. That really should have been my first clue.)
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  2. Maes Hughes’ Death – I have to say that I knew this was coming without having heard of the story before. There was going to have to be a martyr. It didn’t make the killing any less sad. Maes Hughes was a jovial, caring, and loving man. He loved his daughter (NOT LIKE SHOU TUCKER… more on that later.) and his wife very much. As far as the military is concerned, he keeps Roy Mustang from going off the deep end and acts as a father figure to the Elric Brothers. (He tied too many people together and made them put their best foot forward… These are usually the character that get it.) The issue was that he was too intelligent. He was killed because he had figured what was going on and would have warned Mustang and the others. Father couldn’t have that. He is attacked by Lust and murdered by Envy (WHO IS DISGUISED AS HUGHES’S WIFE!!!!!!!!!!! Listen when I tell you later that I cared not what happened to Envy later in the countdown… remember this tidbit.) Hughes’s death is what sets things in motion from this arc on out.
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  3. Winry realizes that Scar killed her parents – Poor Winry. She lives with her grandmother because her parents were murdered. It is a gut punch to watch her listening to Ed’s conversation with Scar. She overhears that it is Scar who killed her parents (after they helped him by the way.) She is overcome with anger and sadness and wants to avenge their deaths. (Why wouldn’t she? Wouldn’t you? I feel it was a natural reaction.) She picks up a nearby gun and points it at Scar. It is Ed that steps between them shielding her with his body. He manages to work the gun away from her by telling her that she wasn’t meant to take life. She was meant to save it just like she had saved him in the past. (This show knows how to put you through the wringer. Where is the Kleenex?)
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  4. Hawkeye thinks Mustang is dead – This one hurt me… (I have already stated that he is my favorite character.) I felt for Hawkeye and it was harder to watch because Hawkeye up until that point was kick-ass, holding her own in a male-dominated arena. In all actuality, you would hope that you have a run-in with any of the men before Hawkeye. Watching her finally hit her breaking point and the controlled façade disappear was too much to bear. (I only rewatch this scene because I know how awesome Mustang is when he finally does reappear but I will get into that on the next entry.) It was heartbreaking watching her going a gamut of emotions and breaking down into tears while spraying the supposed killer with hundreds of bullets to no avail. Thank Goodness Alphonse is there to intervene because I am sure Hawkeye would have let herself be killed. (You can see in this scene she has really given up her will to live.)
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  5. Mustang vs Lust – Now this moment ties into the above moment. (PS. I have watched this scene a million times.) Mustang and Havoc enter the 3rd laboratory when they are met by the homunculus, Lust. Lust gets the better of them by slashing a pipe above his head and dumping water on Mustang. (Poor Mustang. He learns the hard way that shooting her won’t work.) They ignite the gas around her and they think they have done their job but she regenerates and attacks Havoc. Mustang who manages to remove her philosopher’s stone gets stabbed through the abdomen and shreds his ignition gloves. She leaves both men for dead. (Hence where she is gloating to Hawkeye above that Mustang is dead. I believed her for a bit… what a witch.) She doesn’t count on Mustang making another appearance and burning her to a crisp. She notices that he now has a lighter and has carved a transmutation circle into his hand. (I mean she ruined his gloves so… I screamed so loud in my mind because MUSTANG IS BRILLIANT. I love a brilliant man.) Lust’s comments that he should have bled to death already. To which Mustang responds: “I seared the wound closed, I came close to passing out from the pain.” (Let me go ahead and tell you… I would have just died. I have a super low threshold for pain.) Lust had no clue who she was dealing with. Mustang rises to occasion saying that he wants to prove her original claim of not being able to be killed wrong. And he does so in the baddest of ways possible.
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  6. Mustang vs Envy – Here is something that was in the cards since Hughes’ death. Envy was going to have to face Mustang after killing his friend. I liked to call this a fight… but in all honesty… It is an execution. (I mean the episode is called: Flame of Vengeance.) Envy’s downfall was to laugh and joke about how he killed Hughes. When Envy laughs about taking the appearance of Gracia and carrying out the killing, Mustang has had enough. “I think I’ll begin… BY BURNING OUT YOUR TONGUE.” Mustang has some of the best lines here. I live for it. “What’s it like having the fluids inside of your eyes boil? I’d imagine it might sting a little.” Envy even attempts to attack Hawkeye. (As if that was going abate Mustang’s fury. It was like they didn’t do any research as to who he was.) The anger and madness are palpable in this episode…and as I stated earlier I cared less and less whether Envy was going to survive. (Envy ends up killing himself in the end.) The thing is though Mustang heads down a slippery slope with this one. Envy even attempts to take on the appearance of Maes Hughes and you can watch as Mustang begins to slip away from sanity for a bit. The need to kill Envy becomes all-consuming and the altercation shifts from killing Envy to saving Mustang from himself. If he had killed Envy, he would have been a lost cause forever. Score another for Ed who stepped in the middle of this. And for Hawkeye who was going to shoot him in the back per their agreement. It is such a great episode.
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  7. Mustang loses his eyesight – Now here is a metaphor if ever I have seen one. (These episode titles are epic. Lost Light.) I feel so bad for Mustang here. In the previous episode, the evil doctor takes Hawkeye hostage and tries to force Mustang into opening The Gate. The doctor has one of the zombie soldiers mortally wound Hawkeye. He tells Mustang to hurry and perform the transmutation or Hawkeye will die. Hawkeye tells Mustang that she won’t die even as her blood pools around her on the floor.  Mustang seems to think over giving in to save Hawkeye but she lets him know in no uncertain terms that is not an option. (Well uncertain for Mustang and Hawkeye.) Mustang knows all too well that Human Transmutation doesn’t work from the Elric brothers so he flat out refuses. When the scuffle breaks out Mustang faces Wrath who pins him down to the ground by stabbing both of Mustang’s hands with two nearby swords and he is forced through The Gate. Wrath questions what Mustang will lose as a toll (because you can’t get something for nothing.) After seeing Truth, Mustang arrives at where the other sacrifices are, followed by Pride. He comments that it is so dark. Ed realizes that the toll was Mustang’s eyesight. (I am as pissed off as Ed because it was not a punishment like what happened to Ed and his brother. He was forced into it which Ed and I find unbearable.) The metaphor being Mustang is a man with a vision for how the country should be run… now left without eyesight.
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  8. Mustang goes to war blind – When the battle begins,  Alex Armstrong has transmuted a lift platform to carry himself, Olivier, Roy, Riza, Sig, and the chimeras to the surface. Greed informs them that the Homunculus leader is on a rampage above and tells all injured parties to stay behind while the fighters go on ahead to back up the Elric brothers. Mustang refuses to stay behind even with Hawkeye’s protest.  Roy declares that they must move now, explaining to Greed that he can still use his powers to attack the Philosopher’s Stone inside Father but that he requires Lt. Hawkeye’s aid to do so. Mustang talks her into being his eyes for battle. He needs to be there to help the Elric brothers.
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    What I found funny was Mustang’s adjustment to circle free transmutation. As he claps his hands together to compensate for the damage done to his gloves, Roy remarks that he hasn’t yet gotten the hang of circle-free transmutation, but as he rapidly transmutes a wall to defend against Father’s counterattack, he claims to see its usefulness. I bet you do sir. Anyways… can you claim your favorite character went to war blind? No, you can’t. The shit was EPIC. EPIC.
  9. Olivier Armstrong – One word… BADASS! One thing I have to give Kudos to is the fact that this show has badass women… Winry, Izumi, Hawkeye… and let’s not forget Olivier. When her character is first introduced, she is shown to be a tough and just general and everyone serving her has put her on a pedestal. She gets a type of loyalty and respect from her subordinates that I was surprised to see. She speaks matter of factly… and doesn’t sugar coat at all. It is her and her men who bring down another Homunculus. (Let’s not forget the dramatic difference between her and her brother.) When a Homunculus named Sloth accidentally infiltrates the fortress, Olivier uses this opportunity to test the Elrics’ loyalty. Mounting a Briggs Tank, General Armstrong leads the defense against the intruding Homunculus, eventually freezing him solid with the harsh weather of the region to her advantage. She was not to be messed with and no one in their right mind would cross her.
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  10. Wrath vs the Tanks (Bradley entered the fight) – I am just going to mention that the episode is called The Return of the Führer. And he returns with a VENGEANCE. King Bradley/Wrath survives an attempt to take him out and once he returns he prepares his frontal assault. Stating there is no point in using a back entrance to enter his own castle. Deflecting the Briggs Tank gunfire with his sword, Wrath charges for the tank and slices through them all with incredible ease, all while continuously charging forward. I mean the man only had a sword and a grenade. This proved to me that it was going to take a whole lot to take this man out. The action had me on the edge of my seat. (My friends fave scene.)
  11. Nina Tucker as a chimera – WHO DOES THIS????? We meet Nina and her dog early on in the show. Her father, Shou Tucker, is introduced when the Fullmetal Alchemist was in need of a bio-alchemist whose research notes might hold a clue to restoring his and Alphonse’s bodies. Tucker had gained a bit of notoriety and earned his State Alchemist’s License two years prior to the series by producing a chimera capable of human speech. (This should have been my first clue.) Shou Tucker is named the Sewing Life Alchemist (ANOTHER RED FLAG I MISSED.) Ed and Alphonse have forged a relationship with Nina and her dog. But Shou mentions ever since the speaking chimera that earned him his license, he has yet to present an alchemical breakthrough worthy of his yearly State Alchemist assessment and fears that a failure this year will cost him his certification and research privileges. (Another red flag people… SO MUCH FORESHADOWING THAT I MISSED.) Tucker revealed later that he merged Nina and her dog. Edward quickly perceives that Tucker has bypassed the impediments of artificially creating a being capable of comprehending and vocalizing speech by instead alchemically merging a live human with an animal – in this case, Nina and Alexander and in the previous case, his wife. It couldn’t be undone… I ask again… WHO DOES THIS??????????? (I remember to this day when my friend turned to me and said… “DO YOU SEE??!! DO YOU SEE WHAT HE DID???”) It was another traumatizing event in the show. I still refuse to acknowledge it happened. (Another scene that I haven’t rewatched.)
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  12. The Other Side of the Gate – Now through the course of the show, I waited with bated breath for Alphonse to get his body back. He had a list of foods he wanted to eat and he just deserved the best. So when we see his body at The Gate of Truth, I almost lost my mind. (You think I am joking… I am not.) I mean Ed’s face when he realizes who that is… it is so me.
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    I was so pissed off when the Hands of Truth pull him back and away from Al’s body. But in the end, it showed that they were on the right path… that getting his body back could actually happen. I did feel vindicated when Ed managed to punch open the portal and let his brother know that he is coming back for him. Steely Determination people.
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  13. Alphonse vs Kimblee and Pride – Now I have not forgiven Kimblee for using Winry to threaten Ed. He and his bodyguards march her into Fort Briggs under the pretense of being her escorts. When really she is being escorted to show that Ed and Alphonse to do what they’re told or she will be killed. (Rat Bastard.) Kimblee leads Edward into a private room and informs him that Führer Bradley has issued three orders for the Fullmetal Alchemist: to locate Scar in the North Area; to locate Dr. Marcoh, who is believed to be traveling with Scar; and finally, to carve a Crest of Blood into Fort Briggs. So trust me I couldn’t wait for Al to kick ass. Watching Al fight showed that he is just as adept and intelligent as his brother. He creates a dust cloud and uses the smokescreen to attack Kimblee from behind. Although he creates a stone wall to block Kimblee’s counterattack, Pride slices it up with his shadows (because Pride is a loser.) He gets the upper hand by transmuting the metallic foot he discarded earlier into a sword and block Pride’s attack before transmuting it further to penetrate his defense to attack him. Kimblee gets away and he sucks. But it was a hell of a battle watch and props to Al.
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  14. Selim Bradley is a homunculus – This one threw me for a loop. I wasn’t ready. AT ALL. Firstly, I falsely believed that Wrath/Bradley was the first homunculus. (I feel like it was a red-herring.) He is revealed to be Pride, the first Homunculus that Father created. He embodies the cruelest, most prejudicial, yet most basic aspect of evil. (Pride is the worst…) He is the pinnacle of the Homunculi’s homunculus-centric beliefs and contempt of humans. He is the second-in-command of the Homunculi (you thought it was Bradley too right?), and can also possess the greatest overall physical strength among them. Hawkeye runs into Pride/Selim and Mrs. Bradley who reveals that Selim was adopted. Hawkeye remembers that, according to Mustang’s account, King Bradley is a Homunculus and should not have any blood relations. Selim soon appears and reveals the truth. He is, indeed, a Homunculus. Pride’s shadowy tendrils snake up Riza’s body as he displays their ability to exert pressure on people as if they were real hands as well as their sharpness as he cuts a small gash in her cheek. I was worried for Riza… (I really just wanted her to be happy… with Roy… but that is a post for another time.) Riza makes it out unharmed but with the warning that he will be watching her from the shadows. (Creepy as fuck y’all.)
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  15. The Cutest Proposal Ever – At the end, with the war done.. there is still so much they need to work out. Winry sees Edward off at the train station and scolds him to take better care of his automail leg while he’s gone. Before Ed boards the train, he turns and asks Winry to marry him in the only way that he can. He likens it to equivalent exchange…. in which he gives her half of his life and takes half of hers in return. (It was so cute and funny at the same time… come on Ed.) Winry is annoyed at his alchemy filled proposal counterproposes that she is willing to give him much more than half. He laughs at her, gives her a hug, and hops on the train. IT IS SO CUTE. THEY GETTING MARRIED. I really wanted them to have some sort of closure which Roy and Riza never get.  Great way to end a stressful series.
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I enjoyed this show so much. It is in my top 10. If you haven’t seen it. Watch it. If you have, let me know your favorite moments. That is all for now.

Quarantine Post #8: Peaky Blinders

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So yes I am many years behind the phenomena that is the show Peaky Blinders. I usually watch anything BBC without any question so it was always on my list. I had already finished Ripper Street, Sherlock, The Crown and Luther. But if you have been reading my posts up to now then you know that I never read or watch anything that comes out right away. I like to give things time to die down so that I can form opinions on my own. Usually though when I am ready to talk things over with someone else they have normally forgotten things because they watched it so long ago. But the BBC didn’t disappoint. The casting was on point because I really couldn’t imagine anyone else playing these characters. The costume designer was also on point. Each actor looked the part and we won’t talk about these interesting haircuts. Now of course many people recommended this show to me because I am a sucker for period pieces or period dramas. So let’s get into it.

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In the beginning, I had no clue why the show was titled the way it was. So I did a bit of research and discovered that this was an actual gang in England. The Peaky Blinders were an urban street gang based in Birmingham, England, that operated from the end of the 19th century to after the First World War. The group, which grew out of the harsh economic deprivations of working class Britain, was composed largely of young men of lower to middle-classes. They derived social power from robbery, violence, racketeering, illegal bookmaking and the control of gambling. The name is said to be derived from the gang members’ practice of stitching disposable razor blades into the peaks of their flat caps which could then be used as weapons and often used to blind. The Blinders’ dominance came about from beating rivals, whom they fought for territory in Birmingham and its surrounding districts. They held control for nearly 20 years until 1910, when a larger gang, the Birmingham Boys, led by Billy Kimber, overtook them. However, even though they had disappeared by the 1920s, the name of the “Peaky Blinders” became synonymous slang for any street gang in Birmingham.

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So knowing this I was prepared for a good show. Period drama with gangs and set in London. I am down for that. So I am going to mark this post for spoilers even though I believe I am going to give a broad overview of things.

First, I want to break down the family and people that we see….

Thomas Shelby – Thomas is a very calm and observant man, showcasing his wit and ruthlessness to anyone who threatens him or his family.  Tommy is the second oldest sibling and the leader of the Peaky Blinders. In my eyes, he is the exact opposite of his brothers and sister who are mostly hot headed and emotional. This makes it easier to attend to business. He is widely respected among his local community and is seen as a dangerous foe by his enemies. Under his leadership, the Peaky Blinders have risen from a local Birmingham street gang to a national enterprise that has gone toe-to-toe with the New York Mafia. I am going to throw in that I heard that originally he was going to be played by Jason Statham… and while I like Jason… I am not sure anyone else besides Cillian Murphy could play Tommy. Outwardly, he appears unbothered by a lot… but he is my little onion because he definitely has layers to peel back.

Arthur Shelby Jr. – Arthur is the oldest of the Shelby siblings and a tough member of the Peaky Blinders. He is more brawn than brains which is why he acts as his brother Tommy Shelby’s right-hand man taking his orders and carrying out . Thomas and Arthur have a odd relationship. They love each other but despite being the oldest of the Shelby brothers, Arthur is not the leader of the Peaky Blinders, which is something that often comes between the two brothers, with Arthur frequently trying to prove himself to Tommy. Arthur is the mad dog of the family… who will kill you just as soon as look at you. Whatever you may feel about Arthur… there is nothing wrong with defending/protecting your family. (BY ORDER OF THE PEAKY FUCKIN BLINDERS.)

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John Shelby – Along with his two older brothers, John was a soldier of the Warwickshire Yeomanry, which served as cavalry and machine gunners in the First World War. John idolizes the Peaky Blinders whole image and what they stand for. While he is more good humored than his older brothers, he has the famous Shelby temper. His actions can sometimes be reckless, but he has shown to be more similar to Thomas when dealing with the family business. While he is not as cutthroat as Thomas or rash as Arthur, he is just as dangerous and capable. John annoyed me in the beginning mostly because it seemed like he acted first and thought later and on some level I thought he felt like he was better suited to run the business than Tommy…. but not everyone has what it takes.

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Aunt Polly Shelby – Aunt Pol is a BAD WOMAN. She is the matriarch of the Shelby Family, aunt of the Shelby siblings, the treasurer of the Birmingham criminal gang, the Peaky Blinders, a certified accountant and company treasurer of Shelby Company Limited. She managed the Peaky Blinders when the Shelby boys were absent during the Great War. She is the unofficial head of the Shelby Family and often advises Tommy on the gang’s business. She even killed someone… sometimes it takes a woman’s touch… (Aunt Pol is badass… it bears repeating.)

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Ada Shelby -(née Shelby) is the fourth and only female of the Shelby siblings and the only sibling initially not involved with the Peaky Blinders. By the end of 1924, however, Ada assumes a leading position at the United States branch of Shelby Company Limited, dealing only with legal acquisitions; unlike her brothers back home in Birmingham, England. She is the widow of known communist, Freddie Thorne, with who she has son, Karl Thorne — named after Karl Marx. Now Ada started out as a character that annoyed the shit out of me. She was so against her family and the things they did but not enough to not move into the house that her brother buys for her. But the older she gets the more she grows on me… instead of being the leader of opposition for the sake of being opposite she helps Tommy with her connections.

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Finn Shelby – the youngest of the Shelby siblings and a member of the Peaky Blinders. As he is the youngest of the Shelby’s, Finn’s involvement within the Peaky Blinders is kept to a minimum, with his brothers Tommy, Arthur, and his Aunt Polly shielding him from the worst of their actions.

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Because the series is so in depth… and it would be hard to summarize all 5 series (seasons), I have decided to post 10 moments that blew my damn mind… and 10 moments that pissed me off. Settle in folks. Let’s get into the countdown.

Aunt Pol kills Major Campbell – Listen this was a toss up for me… and while Grace shot him first, she didn’t get the job done. Grace just added a cane and made him more of a dick. Major Campbell did a lot I didn’t like. Mostly because he honestly believed that he was more upstanding than Tommy and the Peaky Blinders when nothing can be further from the truth. He got annoyed with Grace for falling in love with Tommy and not agreeing to marry him. Which sent him on a personal vendetta against Tommy and the family…. Events lead to her son Michael’s arrest and Major Campbell offers to sign Michael’s release form, in exchange for Polly having sex with him. He specifically humiliates and both verbally and physically abuses her, demanding that she be ‘small and weak’ and cry for him. Polly is disgusted by the demand but reluctantly accepts in the end, thinking only of her son’s freedom. However, Campbell rapes Polly forcefully despite her acquiescence. It is his way of getting back at Tommy but it really only sealed his fate. Let me tell you how much I did not care that he died. I was elated that he was finally dealt with. But let’s not take away from the greatness that is Sam Niell.
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Tommy and Alfie have the grenade conversation –  Tommy walks into Alfie’s office (who is trying to get 100% of Tommy’s business) and after being threatened tells Alfie that he and James (who was left outside) have a grenade trip-wired to a barrel of rum and if anyone other than Thomas walks out of the door, James is going to blow it all up. Alfie, hearing that, can’t tell if Thomas is bluffing or not and after a surreal back and forth, Thomas agrees to give 35% of his business to Alfie. Alfie and Tommy have a very strange relationship given that Solomons has crossed Thomas three times and yet the latter continues to trust him. When the two meet, there is a witty exchange of intelligent and threatening words, each trying to intimidate the opponent. They both seem to build up some form of mutual respect, seeing the other as equal. But in the beginning, Alfie wanted 100% of Tommy’s business. This scene is one of my favorites with Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy. I lived to watch them in scenes together.
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Tommy vs the Italians – Luca Changretta makes a deal with Aunt Pol to spare Michael’s life who is in the hospital recovering from the shooting that killed John Shelby. Luca also makes threats to Michael, and he decides to give up Tommy in return for Changretta ensuring that his mother is not harmed. What is not known is that Tommy knows all about the deals made with Polly and Michael. (Polly’s deal was actually made by Tommy as he is actually leading the enemy into a trap.) Michael’s deal, however, was a betrayal. Changretta’s gang follow Tommy (who is by himself) to an apartment building where the shootout begins. It was entertaining to me to see Tommy shooting from all over while telling the residents to shut the door and stay away from the windows. This scene was epic because Tommy’s adversaries really thought they were smarter and that Tommy was a sitting duck…. Poor guys… when they realized who was actually the sitting ducks.
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Grace’s Death – Poor Grace… She shoots Campbell for becoming obsessive. She ends up having to run off to New York and getting married since Tommy decided against running away with her. She can’t have a baby and the doctor tells her its her fault. (Of course it is her fault because why would it be the guy’s fault?) When she finally returns to Birmingham, she sleeps with Thomas and gets pregnant. When we see Tommy and Grace in Season 3, they are married. Tommy keeps promising that he had one more thing to take care of and then the business would be all legit. (This is a pipe dream.) Grace busies herself putting together a charity event. I think the thing that hurt me the most was the fact that it was they finally are happy. There was a lot of foreshadowing when this occurred. Tommy has a conversation with Grace talking about how he is scared of her and Charlie’s safety. And then again just before she is shot… Tommy tells her that he doesn’t care for all of the people surrounding them just about her. She is shot then by a bullet meant for Tommy (which haunts him to the end of the series.) by the Changretta family. I was hurt more for Tommy than anything else.
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John’s death – John was actually my favorite brother. But by the 4th season, John is 30 years old and somewhat estranged from his family. The whole family had gotten the warning from the Italians about the ensuing vendetta. Tommy for his part tried to collect them all so that they could present a united front and protect each other. John’s wife though is still mad at Tommy and claimed that they did not need the family to protect themselves. (I like the women of this show but there are times…. like this one where I am annoyed as fuck by them. You have six children and you really marched your husband towards deaths door instead of doing what was best for your family.) John… listened to Esme and was gunned down by the Italians in front of his doorstep. It was a gut-wrenching scene to watch. I really wanted better for John.
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Tommy tries to kill Father Hughes – Father Hughes comes to Tommy’s attention in the third season when he realizes the Priest is a double agent. He is seemingly working for the British Crown and with the politically White Russians but reporting to the Communist Russians. It was insinuated that he was a child molester and it is more than a little upsetting that he blatantly tells Tommy that he is going to put himself on the board of the orphanages that Tommy has opened. It is discovered that Michael Gray was a victim of Hughes from when he was first taken in, which was why Michael himself insisted that he be the one to end Hughes’s life. (Which he does in the end..) But Tommy attempts to assassinate him… to not great results. It seems it is Aunt Pol who goes to confession and blurts out the plan to kill a priest that has Tommy walking into a trap. Tommy is beat badly and it is hard to watch… It would have been easier to watch them shoot him. He is very badly injured, with a suspected fractured skull and a hemorrhage. Tommy manages to make a few appointments later in the day before begging his sister to call an ambulance because he was losing his sight.
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Tommy confronts Alfie about Charlie – Anyone that crosses Tommy Shelby learns that he will do any for the safety and wellbeing of his family. The aforementioned Father Hughes manages to kidnap Tommy’s son Charlie when he learns of Tommy plans to dig a tunnel to steal the jewels from the Russians. In order to get his son back, Tommy has to blow up a train and frame certain people, and at least 6 people have to die. The only person who knew about the tunnel was Alfie Solomon’s and it is Tommy’s determination that it was Alfie who snitched. Tommy and Alfie meet in an abandoned warehouse upon Tommy’s request. Tommy wanted a list of people who wanted to buy Faberge eggs but it turns into a showdown with Tommy declaring that Alfie crossed a line by helping to have his son kidnapped. There is a lot of feeling here… you feel bad for Tommy and you almost want him to have vengeance until Alfie starts talking. Alfie points out that there is no lie in their what they do and how many sons, fathers and husbands had been killed by them. Tommy did this to himself. Although Alfie later confesses he did not know Tommy’s son Charlie was endangered. Tommy lets him leave alive. The whole scene has me on the edge of my seat. Mostly because I love Tom Hardy and I enjoyed his character.
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Killing Billy Kimber – Billy Kimber was a total douche. he didn’t even talk business… (just lets his secretary make deal… insert eyeroll.) and trust me douche is being nice. Tommy has plan to overtake and turn the Peaky Blinders legit. He starts by fixing the horserace without Kimber’s permission. Tommy calls it Black Star Day, the day in which he will take out Billy Kimber and his men at the races. The plan is to happen at the racetrack where the Peaky Blinders will meet up with more men, however, Kimber and his men show up on Tommy’s doorstep. Tommy and his crew are outnumbered and out gunned but do not back down. Billy Kimber manages to shoot Tommy in the chest, but Tommy is able to shoot him in the head. With Kimber dead, he tells Kimber’s men to go home as they have no more reason to fight.

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The Eden Club Takeover – Arthur is the master of mayhem when it comes to the Peaky Blinders… He is the enforcer of the brothers I will say I would rather have him on my side than have him be the rabid dog that I have to try and get away from. Arthur was tasked with taking over the Eden Club, owned by the Shelbys’ enemy Darby Sabini. I find that I couldn’t care less about Sabini. Arthur and the crew walk in and start their beatdown and Arthur utters the infamous line: “This place is under new management…by order of the Peaky Blinders!”
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Tommy tells Lizzie that she belongs to him – A lot people will tell you that the love of Tommy’s life is Grace…. and I have no issues with that. I didn’t have any issues with Grace… especially after she shot Major Campbell. While I like Tommy with Grace, I love him more with Lizzie… maybe I am just a glutton for punishment…The thing is though… Tommy does care for Lizzie and always did whether he shows that outwardly or not. There are places where you can see it in the show… Lizzie Stark starts out as a prostitute known all over Birmingham and in Series 1, John talks about marrying her… which the Tommy discourages. And you first think that it is because she is a prostitute but it is more because Tommy is sleeping with her…and had been regularly (and doesn’t want her marrying John.) Tommy marries off John to someone else and continues sleeping with Lizzie… In Series 2, he offers her a position as his secretary with the condition that she would no longer do her other work as a prostitute, this time with “no exceptions”. (Mostly meaning that he wants to be the only person sleeping with her.) Tommy does use her though and that was heartbreaking to watch; the whole soldier rape thing comes to mind… where he explains to her he needs her to distract a soldier, by taking him to a ‘quiet place’. Tommy promises to get there before ‘it’ starts, and Lizzie eventually accepts but he doesn’t arrive until after the soldier is raping Lizzie. In series 3, Tommy marries Grace and when she is killed… it is Lizzie that reaches him when he closes himself off to everyone else. In the fourth season, Lizzie announces she is pregnant and it looks like Tommy is happy to hear that. In the 5th series, Lizzie and Tommy are in tumultuous marriage but when told that she wants a divorce, Tommy gets real (more or less) about how he feels. During a raunchy sex scene he tells Lizzie that she is his property and no one can touch his property. (Others will say that Tommy is exerting his control over her… I say that it is interesting to keep her around for so long just for control… with all the other women in and out of his life.) I look forward to more with this couple.
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In the end, the BBC know how to do period pieces. Kudos to the cast, they are all bad ass… especially in this show. I always appreciate a show where there are bad ass women and an explosive storyline. Series 5 ended on a cliffhanger… and I am devastated… I mean I waited 7 years since the start… and now I am feenin’…. LOL but in the end… Tommy Shelby is a bad ass… let’s take a minute to appreciate Mr. Shelby.

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In the end, I loved this show… I have not had so many outbursts and weird reactions to one show. It is on Netflix… Check it out and tell me your favorite moments.

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Quarantine Post #7: Tomboy by Avery Flynn (The Hartigans Book #3)

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If you have been following my posts up to this point you know that I stumbled into the Sports Romance genre with the Ice Knights series by Avery Flynn… (My Goodness do I miss hockey.) I am still waiting on book 3 of that series to come out on Monday, but in the meantime, I stumbled across Tomboy which is another book about a girl and an Ice Knight hockey player. (The more research I do the more I realize that a lot of her series are a.) standalones and b.) a lot of the characters in one series get a spin-off or tie into another one. (I am jealous because I don’t create that way.) But I am here for it. I remember reading both Parental Guidance and Awk-weird and learning about Zach Blackburn and Fallon Hartigan as peripheral characters and wanting to know what their story was. Well, I knew when I found it I was going to swallow it all in one go. So here it is.

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What I have noticed about Avery Flynn and what keeps bringing me back is she has a lot of well developed and fleshed out characters with real issues. The women are strong-willed and a bit vulnerable (because hell women can be and are both.) And the men are not threatened by the women in the stories, not emotionally constipated and actually share what is bothering them to their friends at least. (But yes… I know that this is in fact written by a woman. However, it is good to depict how sharing and communication are key in any relationship or friendship.)

This story is no different. Fallon is an ER nurse who gets roped into helping Zach Blackburn (the defensemen for the fiction Ice Knights hockey team) “the most hated man in Harbor City” who has come down with the flu by his PR Manager and her friend, Lucy. She never wants to leave her friends in a lurch. So she heads out to Zach’s house… who is less than happy to see her. (Translation: He was a complete douche.) He is not great with gratitude and puts a plan into action to make Fallon leave. During the course of the stay though… they discover that he doesn’t actually have the flu but food poisoning from one of the puck bunnies he smashed the night before.  When he does finally succeed in pushing Fallon away, (which he has skills with doing.) Fallon is caught by the media leaving his house. (It is revealed that he was given food poisoning on purpose so miss puck bunny could play nurse made. I mean who does this?????!!!!) So it starts a media frenzy, because no good deed goes unpunished, of the new puck bunny that Zach is cozying up with. Fuel is added to the media fire when Zach’s hockey game starts to improve. The media deems Fallon as Zach’s Lady Luck aka #TeamZuck (What a stupid name. But I could totally see that trending on Twitter or something.) But as with anything on social media… they love you until they hate you and it isn’t long before the trolls start with their mean comments about Fallon’s looks. Such is the case when women are conforming to the standard. She is the subject of hurtful comments and memes. (Douches). When the Ice Knights lose the next game – at which Fallon is not present – Zach is pushed by several people, including Coach Peppers, into asking her to attend the next one, and while she thinks that whole Lady Luck thing is a crock of shit, she agrees to go if Zach will make a personal appearance at an upcoming benefit to raise money for the free neighborhood health clinic where she volunteers. Zach never makes personal appearances, but if it’s the only way Fallon will turn up at the games then he is down. And to his surprise, actually finds himself enjoying the day, so much so that he actually makes plans to come back with the rest of the team.

Zach is the most hated not only because of his bad attitude but people in the city also feel like he is an overpaid lousy hockey player. He can’t seem to get his game back on track and because of that, the Ice Knights are on a serious losing streak; and in addition, he’s bad-tempered, rude, and stand-offish, has never made the attempt to befriend his teammates, and certainly never makes an effort to be nice to fans. What is great about this story is that while Zach was currently not playing as well Avery sets up a fantastic story as to why he is the way he is. I call it an onion. There are so many layers to Blackburn and his relationships and I want to say kudos to Avery for making it as realistic as possible. As a friend of mine says… it takes a bit to get to the soft nougaty center. Dealing with fans seems like the thing that celebrities should do… but people really feel entitled to know personal things about people’s lives because they see them on tv or read a book they have written. And because of that feeling, fans can be rude as fuck.

Fallon Hartigan is me and I am she. She is educated and a team player. She goes to the mat for people she cares about. Fallon is a no-frills, no-nonsense kind of woman, and isn’t anything close to the puck bunnies Zach has been seen with. (Which she originally prides herself on but becomes a hindrance later on.) She comes from a large and loving family. (And by that I mean they are in each other’s business and very opinionated. Accurate depictions of some families… definitely my family.) She is a die-hard hockey fan and not really into what other women are into or really what she believes women should be into. (Spa days, getting your nails done, hair and makeup, etc). Besides being intelligent, Fallon is also a big softie at heart. She volunteers for the neighborhood free health clinic and takes to heart that there might not be enough money to keep it up and running because she knows the people in the city need it.

What is interesting is that Avery tackled internet trolls in the best way, meaning that I wanted to throttle everyone that wrote rude shit. She is constantly being called a man because being interested in someone is hard enough, without the added feature of him being in the spotlight. Fallon may be tough as nails to people which of course equals her being a bitch for having an opinion in a man’s world. Even though she is tough as nails, she does give in to her anxiety which has had a spotlight put on it since meeting Zach. Once she admits that there is more to Zach than him being a douche and that she likes him… nothing helps a person backpedal more than comparing yourself to past lovers. She constantly tells herself that she is not what Zach normally goes for. But Zach is not to be deterred. The idea of her being his Lady Luck gave way to real feelings.

Zach: “If we walk out of here together right now, there’s only one way tonight ends.”
Fallon: “How’s that?”
Zach: “Naked. Sweaty. Drained. Exhilarated. Probably sore. Definitely satisfied.”
Fallon: “Let’s go.”

Yeah, I would have gone too. I enjoy that both of these characters have deep-seated insecurities that they have to work through. These are both well-rounded characters and I found myself wanting to know more about each which doesn’t always happen. This is a slow burn in the best way. Avery strikes a good balance between the fun, flirty romance with witty banter and astonishment at layers being peeled back and the darker themes that lend depth to the story. The fictional social media posts are, sadly, the sort of things that are only too familiar in the real world. The criticalness of people on the internet who don’t know her but want to judge her by the way she looks hit home for me and not in a good way. It is the mark of a great writer to stir up emotion in the readers. And Zach’s experiences, while not typical, are not unheard of either (Think Gary Coleman, Macaulay Culkin.) The romance that develops between the big-hearted, take-no-prisoners Fallon and the grumpy but lovable Zach, is really well done and their chemistry just sizzles and is suffocating.

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And I have to say the narration was intriguing. The story is told in two POVs. (Zach and Fallon) Because of that, the story is narrated by both Savannah Peachwood and Brian Pallino. Both of whom are new to me but they performed this well. I look forward to listening to these two work together again. They worked really well together and I’m happy to be able to say that I enjoyed listening to them. I’m really picky when it comes to my narrators. I sampled every story before I purchase it. If I don’t like the narrators, then I purchase the paperback so that I can read it on my own.

So those are my thoughts. Read it, listen to it…. tell me your thoughts below.

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Quarantine Post #6 – Awk-Weird (Ice Knights Series #2) by Avery Flynn

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So of course, as in all things, I am late to the party. Before being home for quarantine for a long ass time, I had no clue that there were sub-genre’s within romance. But on my quest to cross things off my reading list, (I have so many lists.) Audible has opened my eyes for me. My goodness do I miss watching my sports. (Don’t get me wrong, I get why there has been an interruption and I want everyone, players, fans, coaching staff, etc to be safe.) Of course people have a deeper appreciation when things they enjoy are taken from them. However, in my quest to refuse to succumb to boredom, I have turned to a lot of different things.

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So my last post was a review of me stumbling on to the awesome hockey romance that is Parental Guidance by Avery Flynn. So it was to my delight that there was another in the series. (We will talk about the book Tomboy from her other series that introduced these Ice Knights characters that I stumbled onto the other day. You’ll find I do a lot of stumbling.) Alas, I shall do a post about that as soon as I finish that book. I am currently listening/reading now because I need something to listen to it before the third book in the series comes out. (Loud Mouth by Avery Flynn, Ice Knights series book 3). Also I need to know how this all started. But now for the topic at hand, Awk-weird caught my eye not only because I am obsessive and have to get a whole collection especially since I enjoyed the first story in the collection, but because I couldn’t tell whether or not the lady on the cover was pregnant or not. The summary intrigued me. I mean the boy meets girl he barely knows and knocks her up but they find love and make things work has always been one of my favorite troupes (although fake dating always wins out in the end.) This could have turned out to be super cheesy but instead was endearing and heartwarming.

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Tess and Cole meet at their friend Lucy’s wedding. Cole is the forward for the Ice Knights hockey team. Enter, Tess our nerdy friend. They meet while Cole and his teammates are playing trivia the night before the wedding. Tess overhears the questions and answers (correctly) under her breath and to herself. And she should know because that’s her way to deal with stressful situations… blurting out random trivia. Tess is roped into playing with Cole after she is spotted holding up the wall. And I get a kick out of the fact that even though a large bet is on the line. Tess takes pity on their rookie opponents and talks Cole into throwing the game. Cole and she disappear from the reception and wake up in bed together the next day. Talk about an awkward morning with trying to find your clothes and make it to a hair and makeup for the wedding. Tess spews out fact after fact making an awkward situation more awkward. Although, Cole is not off put by her like most people are and lets her escape with her dignity but with a bit of a surprise present.

Everything about Cole’s life is order and routine even down to what he eats every morning. He’s stuck in his ways and has a hard time when presented with a new coaching style and new plays to learn. Even the woman he’s with is on again off again and while it bothers him, he’s pretty confident it will all go according to plan. Because “that’s what they do.” Moving a lot as a child, he came to depend on routining to keep normal and it kind of stuck. It is his comfort zone and he relishes in it. But his hockey career with the Ice Knights is in danger because of his refusal to go with the flow.

Tess’s story annoys me because I have had people in my life with similar stories. Tess grew up with her mother who was less than reliable and ended up leaving her with relatives when something else came along.  The something else being a man or a new class she wanted to take or whatever. Tess’s experiences with these relatives were harsh mostly because they were pissed at Tess’s mom with being CONSTANTLY saddled with another child with no end in sight. Her mom would say… Tess will be here for… 2 weeks and that would stretch 4 or 5 weeks because her mom wasn’t responsible. Her relatives took out their frustrations on her since her mother wasn’t around to bear the brunt of things, telling her that she was best in small doses. Her cousins never wanted to be seen with her at school and she took that an internalized it. She believed that everyone in her life was temporary, because once they realize that she annoyed them, they will leave. Making her drive to be self sufficient all the more pronounced. Tess is my favorite type of main character. Nerdy, shy, bookish. The blurting out random trivia when she was nervous or uncomfortable was fun. I now have more useless facts rattling around in my brain thanks to this book. What was also interesting was that Cole was able to put two and two together fairly quickly. He correctly guessed that it was her way to try and make uncomfortable situations more palatable for her. He even eventually tells her his own trivia to help calm her down in certain cases.

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Well things hit the fan for both characters when Tess finds out she is pregnant. Besides that fun bit of news, the ceiling in her apartment above her flower shop caves in making it uninhabitable for a few weeks. Where do her friends and his teammates think she should stay? With Cole of course, I mean hell they are having a baby anyway. Sure push Tess and her cat (Khan) in with a man that enjoys order, structure and control. Add to that Tess’s pessimistic view of not belonging, abandonment issues and  feelings of inferiority making it difficult for Tess to believe in a happily ever after. This seemed like there was going to be a lot of adjustments and letting people in going on but of course with these two not without struggle.

To me, it was hilarious to listen to two people struggle with their attraction for each other… while living in the same house… not to mention, the sex ship has already sailed. nothing better than listening to two people dancing around the issue that they want a repeat of whatever raunchy, sexiness happened in the hotel room. Tess’s inner thoughts about Cole are the best. Screen Shot 2020-06-09 at 6.56.45 PM

It is not until she blurts out in the car that pregnancy drives up a woman’s sex drive and that there are certain areas of the body that become more sensitive than others that she even gives into the idea of sleeping with him again. (The idea being that since she hasn’t been able to sleep… maybe orgasm will get her to dreamland.) The word vomit was real. He asks her why didn’t she just say something if she wanted something from him because he was more than happy to comply.

Tess has real doubts how things are going to work with Cole and the baby as he is going to have to travel all over the country and only be home for a few days at a time during the season. She steels herself on the idea that she will be alone with her baby much of the time. It is what she is used to and it is easier than just letting Cole in right? The thing that annoyed me was Tess’s constant use of the word temporary. Cole was actually trying with her and she was running away from him top speed. Cole made the effort to constantly call her, and leaving her voicemails when she didn’t answer. But I noticed early on that she wasn’t answering on purpose because she didn’t want to participate in the intimacy of a phone call with him. (Hiding behind being awkward…. which he already knows… he is calling you anyway.) She would call him back when she knew he was on the ice and couldn’t pick up. Then she would leave her own voicemails. She kept bringing up returning to her apartment as a way to wall him out. And I totally get that her family were jerks and made her this way but she even expected her great friends to walk away at some point and I wanted to scream at my phone every time she would take two steps forward and two steps back. She would open up and then close off and retreat. (Making me want to scream is part of the job of the slow burn.) Cole is sharp though because he just asks whatever is on his mind.

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Cole for his part has to face change pretty quickly with Tess moving into his space, cooking in his kitchen and letting her demon cat move in as well. (Should pregnant women be dealing with cats? Is that a rumor that I heard or is that fact?) Her being in his space he realizes doesn’t bother him at all… and he even lets go of the idea that he should get back together with his ex because ‘it is just what they do.” He makes great strides but when Tess takes steps back so does he and it wreaks havoc on his performance on the ice and he is left thinking why should he even try and embrace change if he ends up burned in the end.

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Here is another female character that lives in Harbor City where everyone breathes hockey. And she really has no clue about it… despite coming to the games with her diehard friend Fallon. It was interesting seeing her come to terms with his job and how she dealt with the possibility of Cole being injured on the ice. I don’t think that I ever considered what the family of players in contact sports feel. Mother’s, wives, girlfriends must suck it up before every game. That was a new perspective to see.

But as with the other Avery Flynn books, the friends/teammates are key. The girls come together and point out that Tess needs to let someone in and not everyone is like her damn family. They point out that Cole is in love with her and she needs to decide if she is going to admit how she feels about him or continue being miserable. Cole’s teammates come to his house to force him to open about what is really bothering him and figure out what he wants. They also force him to see things from Tess’s perspective which when you are angry sometimes you are unable to do.

In the end, this is my favorite Flynn book by far and I have read a lot of Flynn in the past 30 days so there you have it. She gives up fleshed out characters with real hang-ups and then gives them a support system so that they can talk out and work past their issues. I really enjoyed getting to know Tess and Cole. They came together pretty fast and resisted the fall as best they could, but they were two sides of the same coin and more alike they think in the beginning. I am looking forward to book three which should be out in about a week. I still have to do the post about Tomboy so stayed tuned. In the meantime, get the book read it… and tell me your thoughts below.

Quarantine Post #5 – Parental Guidance (Ice Knights Series) by Avery Flynn

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Quarantine has given me a lot of time to try and accomplish things I claimed I wanted to get done but had no time to do it. I have been working from home for about 13 weeks (since March 15th.) I told myself that, along with starting this blog, I need to read more. I have not really read much since graduating college back in 2015. Being an English major sapped all of the fun out of reading for pleasure. Some may say I am “not actually reading.” but I logged into my audible account and promised to listen to 2 books a month as well as read the manga I have stacked up on my shelf.

Of the many things I miss during this quarantine, it is being able to watch hockey. Prior to the quarantine, my friend and I did a week vacation in which we traveled to Pittsburgh to see the Penguins play (her favorite team) and then traveled on to The Big Apple to see the Rangers play (my favorite team) at Madison Square Garden. I may do a post about this later, but suffice it to say… I wanted to see if there were fictional stories about hockey. A bit of romance, mixed with a bit of hockey. And what should I find but Parental Guidance by Avery Flynn. I confess that I may have judged a book by his cover. I went into this believing I wasn’t going to enjoy this. Thank goodness that wasn’t true.

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The story is about Caleb and Zara. Both of whom are strong armed by their parents into using a dating app where their parents are allowed to pick their matches. Caleb Stuckey (who plays hockey for the fictional team Ice Knights) was caught in a viral video where his rookie teammates are complaining about everything from their coaching staff, the team, and their individual playing time but what really got people was that the  rookies said some not great things about the women they were sleeping with aka the “puck bunnies” (not shocking at all.) What is shocking is that Caleb, who said nothing, is made to fix this PR nightmare. The agreement is he’s going to use a new dating app, Bramble, and let his mom pick his date, go on five dates then agree to be interviewed about the resulting 5 dates he goes on. That’s 5 dates with the same woman, being interviewed after each one, sometimes by his mom, and sometimes by the media, about the dates. I don’t pretend to know a damn thing about Public Relations but maybe I would have made the assholes who actually said rude shit bear the brunt of their actions. I understood the women of the city being annoyed even angry about the comments made on camera about their friends and relatives and they wanted the opportunity to express their grievances. But I quickly got annoyed with the attack on Caleb thing. Should Caleb have said something to his teammates for being dicks… sure… but grown people are their own people and make their own mistakes and therefore need to deal with the consequences of their own actions. Does he hold some fault for being silent…? I believe so… a bit. Does he deserve to be the fall guy and the aim of every woman’s anger in the city. No. I think the bums that were talking nonsense… (as young people generally do stupid shit.) should have been made to clean up their own mess and face the women of the city they pissed off. I am also not sure that I believe that any sports team would think being shitty about women is enough to have to damage control. But that is enough about that.

Zara Ambrose has no interest in dating and definitely not a stranger for the entertainment of other strangers, but she agrees to do it because it would allow her dad to get his SAG card, and fulfill his minutes-long dream of becoming an actor. Her father is the one allowed to pick her dates. Both Caleb and Zara have some parental issues to work through as well. Caleb’s mom seems as though she is cold and uncaring. (But such is the case for women that are too competent.) Zara’s dad is a nice guy to everyone at the expense of his family. (Bills go with out being paid amongst other things.) Zara is about as cynical as they come. Because she couldn’t count on her father to keep the bills paid, she makes sure that she doesn’t need to depend on anyone. Any men especially. As a result, she is a workaholic. Trying to keep her miniature etsy shop alive. What I enjoyed about her was her hold nothing back attitude…. I mean read the profile that she puts up on Bramble. (Maybe a little too TMI for some people… and I can imagine how horrified she was that his mother read the profile and not him.) “I don’t want to date. Anyone. Ever. I like being in full and complete control of my life.”

Now I am not sure that I would allow my parents to pick a man for me. I wonder how that would even work out for me. But it was an interesting premise and I wondered why I hadn’t seen it before. The dating apps are hard  enough to navigate without having to broadcast what your dates are like and without questions being asked about your thoughts and feelings in front of the date by your parents. The thought makes me squeemish. And the first few dates and interviews are about as awkward as you can imagine especially with Caleb’s mom and Zara’s dad arguing on camera for the world to see.

What I enjoyed about the book was that they explored a learning disability with someone in the later stages of their life. It was interesting to see how they coped with it as an adult because some times we are made to believe that once school is over these things just go away. Kudos to Avery Flynn. Caleb has dyslexia and it is a struggle for him. He was made to read aloud in front of the class by a worthless teacher. Ugh that annoyed me so much. What kind of teacher does that? He describes his mom as believing if he tried hard enough that he would “overcome” it. (When I read that, my eyes rolled so hard they bounced.)

Another thing that Avery Flynn decided to include which I thoroughly enjoyed was the fact that Zara had such a hard time reaching the wonderful O. Zara and her friend have a discussion about her not being able to orgasm unless she takes matters into her own hands. I am sure this lends to the not really wanting to be bothered with relationships or meaningless sex because it brings her no real relief or satisfaction. Also not having a partner that was willing to actually try to learn to get her off in the past. It was mind-blowing for Zara to realize that sex with Caleb was different… and let me tell my mind was blown too. To know that he really cared if she got off, if she enjoyed as much as he did set him apart from the rest of the men that she had been with. Zara also jumps to the conclusion that Caleb is a typical arrogant jock who likes to sleep around. (Definitely bolstered by the viral video.) “You’re not into being creative? I guess that’s expected for someone who has probably had women throwing themselves at him for years. You haven’t ever had to work for it.” We learn though, Caleb doesn’t sleep around and the only thing he’s arrogant about is his skills on the ice.

I enjoyed the chemistry between Caleb and Zara. They had great banter and they clicked right away. I found it interesting to see what Bramble set up for them to do. It was good of the app to come up with things for the daters to do that was neutral so that they could get to know one another. One thing I found funny was Caleb was set up with Zara who knew nothing about who he was or hockey in general. (I totally get it. It just made me laugh that in a city where hockey is a big deal, she has no clue who he is. Not everyone watches sports or is taken with players that easily.) Her first assessment of him was that he was tall, well built and maybe had broken his nose a few times…. but couldn’t place why. Too funny to me.

I also enjoyed that the guys (the other players on the team) gave each other advice and acted as a big family. They gave real relationship advice and called each other out on their bullshit. Do they each have situations where they acting like douches? Sure but they are more than teammates; they are actually friends and care about each other. They open each others eyes to the good women in their lives and push them to fight for the girl. Same for Zara and her friend. Shout out to Avery for giving people awesome friends that actually tell the truth. (Keep in mind, you may have awesome friends. And that is great… but not everyone does. I feel sorry for those people.)

Which brings me to the dog, Anchovy. First, why name the dog Anchovy??? Ew. (Lol, I know why but anchovies are gross.) Zara’s dog is large and definitely in charge. Anchovy has some serious personality. Bordering on some rudeness… (Turning off the lights during a video chat.) But the dog is also a favorite character of mine. It was great that Caleb was neither frighten nor disgusted by Anchovy and they got along great. Makes it easier to make something work when your guy and animal get along.

So in the end, I really enjoyed the story and didn’t think I would. 4 out of 5 stars So do not judge a book by its cover. Definitely a fun beach read or plane read. I have already been gushing about it to friends. (Sometimes they actually listen to me so who knows.) I say get it read it and let me know your thoughts in the comments section. (GOODNESS, I MISS HOCKEY.)

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