Friday, June 14, 2019

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Stefanie Graf Turns 50!


Stefanie Graf, the winner of 22 Grand Slam singles championships (one less than Serena Williams) turns 50 years old today.

Happy Birthday, Steffi!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Nadal Wins 18th Major, Record 12th(!) Roland Garros Title





As I predicted, Rafael Nadal won his 12th Roland Garros title on Sunday, defeating Dominc Thiem for the second year in a row  6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1. The King of Clay is now 93-2 on the clay courts in Paris, having only ever lost to Novak Djokovic (2015) and Robin Soderling (2009).

The win brings Nadal, 33, to 18 major singles title, just 2 behind Roger Federer, 37 and 3 ahead of Djokovic's 15. Djokovic still is the World #1, but Nadal has reached two major finals this year and won one of them. Djokovic has the maximum number of points to defend at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open while Nadal has semifinals points to defend in both (Wimbledon l. Djokovic, US Open l. Juan Martin del Potro). To me there's no question that Nadal is the greatest of all time on clay, but I think the question of who is the greatest tennis player of all time it's still too early too tell, but currently Federer occupies that spot with his astonishing 20 major singles title. Amazingly, Nadal's 12 titles at Roland Garros is more major titles than Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi, Stefan Edberg and many other great players earned in their entire career. Only 4 players, (Don Budge, Pete Sampras, Djokovic and Federer) have won more majors than Nadal has won French Open titles. To me, Nadal's extreme dominance in one area is a counter-argument to his claim to greatness because he has only won3 US Opens, 1 Australian Open and 2 Wimbledons, which are not really "notable achievements" taken together. Regardless, the conversation and arguments will continue until all 3 retire, which hopefully will not be for quite awhile!

Monday, June 10, 2019

EYE CANDY: Nana-Kofi Adams (3rd time)




Nana-Kofi Adams  is a British-African bodybuilder who has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (February 25  2019 and October 8, 2018). Nana-Kofi is on Instagram (@nanakofi_adams) where to my surprise he only has 16K followers. Trust me, dear readers, you will not regret checking it out!

Sunday, June 09, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Barty Wins First Major Title, Reaches World #2





As I predicted, #8 seed Ash Barty, 23, defeated Czech lefty Marketa Vondrousova, 19, in the final of the 2019 French Open, 6-1 6-3. Barty's win means that her new ranking will be World #2 on Monday. In fact, she will be less than 200 points behind World #1 Naomi Osaka who has won the two previous majors (2019 Australian Open and 2018 U.S. Open).

In the final, Barty was quickly up a set and a break (6-1, 2-0) and unlike the last two women who were in that situation in the Roland Garros final (Simona Halep in 2017 and Sloane Stephens in 2018), Barty did not falter and went on to win the title, instead of losing in three sets.

Barty had never passed the second round in her five previous appearances before this year. By winning the major she became Australian's latest major champion after a gap of 8 years (2011 US Open) and her ascent to World #2 is the first time an Aussie woman had been ranked that high since 1976.

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)


This is my prediction post for the 2019 French Open men's final. Last year I correctly predicted that Rafael Nadal  would defeat Dominic Thiem This year I predicted 1 of 2 men's semifinals correctly2 of 2 women's semifinals correctly0 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly


 MEN'S SEMIFINALS REVIEW


Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2] d. Roger Federer (SUI) [3] 6-3 6-4 6-2. This was the 39th meeting between the two tennis greats and despite Federer's improved backhand the result on clay was what was expected--an unsuspenseful win by Nadal, bringing his head to head lead back up to 24-15. The match was greatly affected by the weather as the wind was extremely high. Nadal was able to play more of his game in the weather than Federer was and was able to break Federer early in all 3 sets. (In the second set the break was a break-back which effectively ended Federer's chances to make the  match competitive.)

Dominc Thiem (AUT) [4] d. Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] 6-2 3-6 7-5 5-7 7-5. This match was played over two days and was disrupted by weather multiple times. Thiem's win was quite a surprise, because Djokovic had won 26 consecutive grand slam matches. However, since Thiem had beaten Djokovic at this stage in the tournament before it was not out of the question it would happen again. It signals a significant breakthrough for the post-trivalry generation of another player under 30 reaching their second major final and signals that at some point in future the Prince of Clay may become the king.


 MEN'S FINAL PREVIEW

This is a reprise of last year's final which was easily won by Nadal. Since then, these two have played an epic 5-set match at the U.S. Open which was also won by Nadal, despite Thiem winning the first set 6-0! It's hard to see any other result beside Nadal winning his 12th French Open, but I think atleast the match will be extended to either four or five sets. PREDICTION: Nadal.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) vs Ash Barty (AUS) [8]
This is my prediction post for the 2019 French Open women's final. Last year I correctly predicted that Simona Halep would defeat Sloane Stephens This year I predicted 1 of 1 men's semifinals correctly2 of 2 women's semifinals correctly0 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly


 WOMEN'S SEMIFINALS REVIEW

Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [8] d. Ananda Anisimova (USA) 6-7(4) 6-3 6-3. Barty lost the first set to the teen phenom Amanda Anisimova but then was able to remain calm and simply outlast and outplay her opponent to win the last two sets relatively easily to reach her first major final and prevent an all-teen major final, the first since the 1999 US Open with Serena Williams and Martina Hingis.

Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) d. Johanna Konta (GBR) [26] 7-5 7-6(2).  As I predicted, Vondrousova was able to use the complexity of her game to outlast her more experienced and more powerful opponent to win, although it was a rather close match the winner depended on being better on just a few very important points. Surprisingly, the younger player was able to be that player.



 WOMEN'S FINALS PREVIEW

The 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova has reached her first major final without losing a set over 6 rounds at this year's French Open. In fact, the Czech lefty is playing in her 3rd final of the year (she lost the first two) and has reached the quarterfinal or better of every tournament she played this year. She is the first teenager in a major final since Ana Ivanovic did it in 2007. Vondrousova has a 28-6 record for the year (27-5 since the Australian Open), which is the best on tour. She will face 23-year-old Ash Barty, whom she has played twice before (on grass in 2017 and hard court on 2018) and lost both times without winning a set. Barty will reach World #3 by reaching the final and can get as high as World #2 by winning the tournament, which would make her the highest rated Aussie female player in over 40 years(!) What's nice about the match is that it should be entertaining, since both Barty and Vondousova have crafty, smart games and tend not to overwhelm their opponents with power. Barty in particular is one of the few players who is in the Top 10 in doubles and singles, which shows in her comfort in all portions of the court. That, and the extra experience she has give Barty the edge. PREDICTION: Barty.

Friday, June 07, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview


Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the 2019 French Open I have also predicted the women's semifinals. This year I predicted 0 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. Last year I predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals correctly and 2 of 2 women's semifinals correctly.


Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs Dominic Thiem (AUT) [4]

 Unlike the women's tournament, where there will be a first-time grand slam winner and there are two unseeded teenage players in the semifinals, the men's tournament features a player in his 4th consecutive Roland Garros semifinal, and he's the least accomplished player of the quarter remaining in the draw! This is the 8th meeting between Djokovic and Thiem and the 15-time major champion leads 6-2, including 3-2 on clay. But Thiem beat Djokovic in the semifinal round here 2 years ago in straight sets, when Djokovic was close to his nadir. However, the World #1 has now won 26 Grand Slam matches in a row and there's pretty good chance that he will win his second career Nole Slam on Sunday. Such a feat would cement his status as the future G.O.A.T, ahead of his two contemporaries in the golden "trivalry" of Federer-Nadal-Djokovic. Only the Prince of Clay stands in his way from a potential (record!) 55th meeting with Nadal in the final of Roland Garros on Sunday, the most difficult feat in tennis, one that he has accomplished once before. It's hard to bet against him, and I wouldn't. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2] vs Roger Federer (SUI) [3] 
Well here we are! After skipping the clay for the last three years in the second wind of his career to concentrate on winning Wimbledon, Federer surprised the tennis world by agreeing to play the clay season. I agree with most observers who think this will probably be the last time we see Federer play on clay, and this is one reason he is happy to have made the semifinals (and the concomitant ranking points) as well as this last opportunity to meet Rafa on clay, where he has lost 13 of 15 matches the two have played.  Interestingly, this semifinal result is the best Federer has had in the last four slams, having lost in the fourth round in Australia (to Stefanos Tsitsipas) and New York (to John Millman) and the quarterfinal (to Kevin Anderson). Presumably, he expects his results in the next four slams to be decidedly better as he prepares to retire after the Tokyo Olympics (as he chases the elusive Singles Gold medal). This Federer-Nadal XXXIX or #Fedal39 and even though Federer has won the last 5 meetings against Nadal (bringing the head-to-head deficit to only 15-23 thanks to a tennis racquet with a larger head and a more forceful and aggressive topspin backhand) the matchup has never been great for the Swiss Maestro, especially on clay. I would love for Federer to win this match, but I find it hard to even see him winning a set, frankly. And I'm okay with that. I wish the draw had been different and Thiem was in Federer's half and Nadal in Djokovic's. Then I would think there's a VERY good chance of a Federer-Djokovic final. This year, I don't think that's gonna happen. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview


Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the 2019 French Open I will also predict the men's semifinals. This year I predicted 0 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. Last year I predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals correctly and 2 of 2 women's semifinals correctly

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] Ananda Anisimova (USA) vs. Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [8]. 17-year-old American phenom Amanda Anisimova, who Matt Roberts of the Tennis Podcast says "has the best backhand in women's tennis" pulled off the biggest upset of an already surprising women's tournament at Roland Garros. She defeated last year's French Open champion and the prohibitive favorite Simona Halep in straight sets. In fact, Anisimova has won all 10 sets of tennis she has played at Roland Garros this year!  She will face Ash Barty who is the only player to be ranked in the Top 10 of both singles and doubles simultaneously on either side of the draw. Barty has been playing excellent tennis all year, having won her biggest title in Miami by defeating World #2 Karolina Pliskova. Barty was able to blunt the power of last year's semifinalist Madison Keys to reach her first major semifinal. Barty is now the highest rated player remaining in the draw, and has an excellent chance of winning her first Grand Slam singles title (she has two Grand Slam doubles titles). She has never played Anisimova before but her game is difficult for anyone to handle, with lots of spins and fearlessness at the net. Who will feel more nerves, the 23-year-old favorite or the 17-year-old upstart? Anisimova showed (almost) no nerves in her dismissal of Halep, so I suspect it will be Barty, but I think the Aussie's game will get her to the finish line. PREDICTION: Barty.

Sloane Stephens (USA) [7] Johanna Konta (GBR) [26] vs Marketa Vondrousova (CZE).  What is it about the French Open that so many players win their first (and perhaps only) major title here? Jelena Ostapenko (2017), Francesca Schiavone (2011)  and Anastaasia Myskina (2004) are just a few that come to mind. Can Johanna Konta join this list? She had never won a main draw match at Roland Garros yet when she defeated last year's finalist Sloane Stephens in straight sets Chris Evert said it was one of the best clay court performances she had ever seen. I definitely did not expect that to happen! Her opponent in her first major semifinal will be the 18-year-old Czech lefty Marketa Vondrousova who has reached the quarterfinals (or better) in every tournament she has played this year.  She already has demonstrated that she has made a quantum improvement in her game by defeating Petra Martic in the quarterfinals, a player she had lost 4 consecutive matches to  (including a clay court final this year). The two have  a 1-1 head-to-head record but Konta beat Vondrousova on her way to reaching the final in Rome just a few weeks ago (where she lost to Pliskova, who is no longer in the tournament). Konta has only one style of play while Vondrousova's game is much more creative and stylish, thus she can find multiple ways to win, and I think she will. PREDICTIONVondrousova

BOOK REVIEW: Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8) by James S.A. Corey


Tiamat's Wrath is the eighth and penultimate book in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.
I have eagerly bought and quickly devoured each of the previous books in this fast-paced, high-quality space opera after I stumbled into the first one, Leviathan Wakes, giving it a chance because of  the recommendation from George R.R. MartinThis series (and the author) are at the very top of the short list of my favorite reads and authors. (Others on this list would be anything by Peter F. Hamilton, Tana French, and Richard K. Morgan.)

Tiamat's Wrath takes place a few years after the events depicted in Persepolis Rising. The main characters of the series (James Holden, Alex Kamal, Naomi Nagata, and Amos Burton) are scattered across multiple star systems while more recent additions to the crew/family like Clarissa and Bobbie have also experienced big changes since they were added to the original inner circle. 

Tiamat's Wrath begins with the news of the death of Chrisjen Avasarala, one of the most popular characters in the series (played irrepressibly by Shohreh Aghdashloo in the television adaptation of the books) and probably my favorite character in The Expanse overall. That devastating news basically sets the tone for Tiamat's Wrath, because since it is the penultimate book it is becoming more likely that not all characters will survive each installment, and clearly not everyone is going to make it to the conclusion of the story. In fact, Tiamat's Wrath has the biggest body count of significant characters who die in any of the previous books in the series. In addition to Avasarala, there are other significant deaths in Tiamat's Wrath as well, which I won't mention here but are shocking and saddening when they occur.

The situation in Tiamat's Wrath  is definitely not good for our heroes and for most of humanity in the solar system and the nearly 1300 other star systems that can be accessed by the alien gates discovered at the end of Book 3, Abaddon's Gate. By dint of superior technological and military firepower (fueled by the mysterious alien entity called "the protomolecule" discovered in Book 2, Caliban's War), High Consul Winston Duarte of Laconia is now the de facto Emperor of the known Galaxy and Bobbie, Alex, and Naomi are trying to organize what little resistance there is to Laconian hegemonic rule of humankind. Holden is a prisoner on Laconia, an "honored guest" (read: prisoner/hostage) of Duarte and has been for years since the events at the end of Persepolis Rising. Amos is missing and assumed dead after not being heard of for years after volunteering for a special ops mission on Laconia several years before. Naomi has put herself into a self-imposed isolation as she works as the chief strategist for the Laconian resistance. Alex is piloting the Resistance's biggest ship under Bobbie's command.

The POV characters we get in Tiamat's Wrath are Elvi Okoge (an exobiologist who we first met in Book 4, Cibola Burn, who is now an important scientist in the Laconian Science Directorate), Alex, Bobbie, Naomi, Holden and a surprising new one: Teresa Duarte, the 14-year-old daughter of the most powerful man in the known Universe, Winston Duarte.

While the main storyline is how our main characters fight (and die!) to resist (and successfully!) end Laconian domination of the Sol system and others, another even more important story is how the aliens who destroyed the other aliens who developed the ring gates are apparently trying to figure out a way to eliminate the consciousness of every human in every system where humans live. It is clear those aliens know how to affect the consciousness, because during the course of Tiamat's Wrath there are multiple times that the entire human race (on all planets) simultaneously loses consciousness for a brief (but not insignificant) time. Only Elvi seems to realize how serious the threat to all human life is; all the other main characters are focused on the Laconian threat.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the plot in Tiamat's Wrath is the inside look at the putative Laconian Empire, as seen from the perspective of the 14-year-old Teresa. The way that everyone defers to Winston Duarte, and  by extension his daughter is fascinating (and frightening). The warping of the social fabric of an entire society is clearly depicted and manifests in unusual ways. For example, crushes and friendships between teenagers are nonsensical when one member of the group has the ultimate power to have anyone expelled, vanished or worse. We also get the perspective of Naomi Nagata as she becomes the head of the underground resistance and finds a way to undermine the seemingly omnipotent Laconian empire, even as the attacks by the evil aliens become more disruptive.

For me, an incredibly attractive aspect of Tiamat's Wrath and The Expanse series as a whole is the diversity of the characters. This is (obviously)  easier to see in the television adaptation but the authors make it explicit in the book as well. Non-white characters (such as Naomi, Elvi, the Duartes, Cortázar and Bobbie, to name a few) have incredibly significant parts to play in the story. The inclusion of non-heterosexuality happens casually but intentionally among various secondary characters which for an LGBT reader like myself is quite affirming. The effort to be consciously inclusive is a clear feature of the book (and show).

SPOILER ALERT!!


By the end of Tiamat's Wrath  our four main characters are actually back together (on the Rocinante no less!) which was incredibly satisfying (if a little improbable). It brought back nostalgic memories of where the entire story began, way back in Book 1. It’s nice that Book 8 basically has a “happy ending” but this does make me suspicious that Book 9 may not....

Regardless, things are teed up perfectly for an exciting conclusion to the entire 9-book series in the final book. I can't wait!

OVERALL RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8)
Author: 
James S.A. Corey.
Paperback: 534 pages.
Publisher:
 Orbit.
Date Published: March 29, 2013.
Date Read: May 24, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★★★  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: B+.
WRITING: A.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Quarterfinals Preview (and Predictions)


Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the 2019 French Open I have also predicted the men's quarterfinals. Last year I predicted 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly.

Naomi Osaka (JPN) [1] Madison Keys (USA) [14] vs. Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [8]. Although it may seem surprising, Madison Keys actually plays some of her best tennis on clay courts. She reached the semifinals in Paris last year (where she was again not able to play her best tennis against her best friend on tour Sloane Stephens in another huge match). Both of these players have not been talked about much this year while 4/5ths of the World top 5 was crashing out in the early rounds (#1 Naomi Osaka and #2 Karolina Pliskova lost early  while #4 Kiki Bertens and #5 Petra Kvitova withdrew) but both have reached the business end of the tournament playing excellent tennis. Curiously, their head-to-head is tied at 1-apiece with Barty having won their last match (in Fed Cup) but Keys having won the one time that played on clay (two years ago). I'm going with Maddy. PREDICTION: Keys.

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] vs. Ananda Anisimova (USA).  This is Anisimova's major second week debut, which is pretty amazing for a 17 year old. The American phenom becomes the first person, male or female, born in the 21st century to reach a major quarterfinal. Halep completely destroyed her opponent in the previous round and is the defending champion here. I believe she will reach the final again, although I do think the youngster will acquit herself well. PREDICTION: Halep.

Kiki Bertens (NED) [4] Johanna Konta (GBR) [26] vs. Sloane Stephens (USA) [7].  This may be the most exciting of the four quarterfinals. Konta has never won a match in the main draw of the French Open before (is she going to try and pull a feast-or-famine performance reminiscent of 2017 winner Jelena Ostapenko?) while Stephens was in last year's final. Konta has been getting reasonably good results on clay, however, and has beaten Sloane twice this year (just a few weeks ago, on clay, in Rome as well as in Brisbane. However, I think that Sloane's game is bigger and more flexible that she can find different ways to win, which is really not true of Konta. PREDICTIONStephens

Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [2] Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) vs. Petra Martic (CRO) [31]. Yet another teenaged phenom in the final 8 of a major. Czech lefty Marketa Vondrousova has been one of the hottest players on tour all year long. Curiously, these two have already an established rivalry going, with Martic up 4-0 in the head-to-head, including in the final of the clay court tournament in Istanbul a month ago. Sometimes a bad matchup is a bad matchup. PREDICTION: Martic.

Monday, June 03, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals Preview (and Predictions)


Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the 2019 French Open I will also predict the women's quarterfinals. Last year I predicted 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs Alexander Zverev (GER) [5].  Djokovic has yet to lose a set  at this year's tournament and now has an amazing 25 match winning streak at Grand Slams as he goes for his second career "Nole Slam." He is going for his thirty-fifth major semifinal, while his opponent is going for his first. Interestingly, Zverev has an even head-to-head from the four matches the two have played, which is notable because while there are only 80 players who have played at least 4 matches with Djokovic only one person has a winning record (Andy Roddick!) If Zverev does win the match tomorrow, he would be in rarefied company. But  I don't think that's going to happen. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Dominic Thiem (AUT) [4] vs Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) [8] Karen Khachanov (RUS) [10] Last year's finalist Dominic Thiem has been surprisingly vulnerable at this year's tournament, losing a set in every match he played except the latest one, which was a mind-numbingly routine win over an in-form Gael Monfils who had not lost a set getting to the fourth round and then could not win a single one against Thiem. In fact, Monfils has never won a set against Thiem and has given him a walkover win twice in the 8 matches they have been scheduled to play. Khachanov is a NextGen player who reached his first major quarterfinal by outlasting a mildly injured Juan Martin del Potro. Interestingly, Khachanov and Thiem have only played once before and the younger player has the win, and it occurred in Paris last year, while Khachanov was winning the Paris Masters title in the Fall. In fact, Khachanov is on a 10-match winning streak in Paris, so that should give him some confidence, but I don't think it will prevent Thiem getting to the Roland Garros semifinals for  the fourth consecutive year. Mad Professah's pick: Thiem.

Roger Federer (SUI) [3] vs Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) [6] Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [23]. Wawrinka played the best match of the tournament, and probably the year with Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 5-hour-9-minute, 5-set match in the round of 16. Wawrinka is a 3-time major champion, including winning the 2015 French Open which is where he took out Roger Federer in the quarterfinal on his way to winning the title that year after Djokovic eliminated the King of Clay in the quarterfinals. These two Swiss players have met 25 times on the tour and Federer has an imposing 22-3 lead. However all 3 win by Wawrinka have occurred on clay, but Federer still has an overall 4-3 lead on the surface and 6-1 in majors (although only one of  their matches has gone to 5 sets, which was one by Federer on his way to winning the 2017 Australian Open). Is that a presage of the result in this match? Mad Professah's pick: Federer.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2] vs Kei Nishikori (JPN) [7]. Two of Nishikori's four matches here have been 5 sets while Nadal has only dropped a single set in 4 matches, with numerous breadsticks and bagels handed out. Nishikori has 2 wins (compared to 10 losses) against Nadal, but neither of the wins have been on clay or in 5 sets. Nadal's record at Roland Garros is 90-2. It doesn't seem likely that one of these very historic results will happen against Nishikori. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Trail of Lightning (Sixth World, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse


I was skeptical that I would like this book because it was characterized to me as Young Adult (YA) but I was still interested, especially when Trail of Lightning became one of the rare debut novels to be nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula award.

Trail of Lightning is an interesting combination of urban fantasy, dystopian fiction, romance and Native American mythology. And it has a female protagonist and an unusual, culturally diverse cast of characters.

The main character is Maggie (Magdalena) Hoskie, who lives in Dinétah (formerly a Navajo reservation) which has survived an apocalyptic event called the Big Water which basically killed off several billion people worldwide and reduced the populated United States to the area around what used to be the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah (or the Exalted Mormon Kingdom). In this new land, the gods and spirits of the Navajo have come to life and certain people also appear to be manifesting powers that are associated with their tribal lineage.

Of course  our main character Maggie has powers (Super Speed and Ultra-Violence) that allows her to kill “monsters” that show up every now and again and prey upon the people. For this reason she is known as a monsterslayer. In fact, our introduction to the character in the very first chapter is Maggie being hired to find and rescue a little girl who has been abducted by one of these monsters. Maggie beheads the monster, and then because the girl has been infected, has to decapitate the girl as well. Clearly Maggie is "hardcore" but we also learn that she has had a VERY difficult early life and has a reputation for being “violent and antisocial” on the Rez. Later on in the story she meets Kai Arviso, an absolutely gorgeous guy who happens to be the grandson of her only friend, an ancient medicine man known as Tah. Kai and Maggie decide to go find the MacGuffin (an immortal whom they think has probably been creating monsters like the one Maggie had to kill earlier in the story) and along the way of tying to complete this task they find out more about themselves and establish a relationship.

Trail of Lightning has a very strong sense of place and both Kai and Maggie are very well-developed and interesting characters. The Native American element feels very authentic (there are lots of untranslated Navajo words used to describe various concepts and spirits). It’s also a very quick read (chapters are very short and the plot develops at a very fast clip). Another strong aspect of the book is the diversity of the characters. The main characters are Native Americans (of course)  and the supporting characters include a musclebound gay guy, an interracial (African American and red-headed) set of twins and two(!) godlike or at least near-immortal individuals. But the book revolves around Maggie, who is deadly, damaged and delightful.

Overall, I am very glad that I read Trail of Lightning. There's definitely romantic tension between Kai and Maggie (all presented in first-person from Maggie's perspective) but I would not characterize the book as YA or even romance. I’ll almost certainly read the sequel Storm of Locusts  (there's a huge cliffhanger at the end of Trail of Lightning) and the still untitled third book in what Rebecca Roanhorse is calling the Sixth World trilogy.

RATING: 4.5 STARS.

Title:  Trail of Lightning.
Author: 
Rebecca Roanhorse.
Paperback: 287 pages.
Publisher:
 Orbit.
Date Published: June 26, 2018.
Date Read: May 15, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A.
IMPACT: A+.
WRITING: A.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: First Round Complete (Kerber, Kvitova, Wozniacki, Medvedev, Ceccinato, Shapovalov OUT!)


The first round of the 2019 French Open is complete and the upsets have been few and far between. ON the women's side 5th seed Angelique Kerber (who I predicted to get to the final--oh well!) lost in straight sets to the hard-hitting youngster Anastasia Potapova. Injured 13th seed Caroline Wozniacki also lost in the first round despite bageling her opponent Veronika Kudermetova   to begin the match. Petra Kvitova withdrew from the tournament with a forearm muscle tear a few hours before her first round match, 18 year old Felix Auger-Aliassime also withdrew while his best friend and countryman (and 20th seed) Denis Shapovalov lost to Jan-Lennard Struff. On the men's side the highest seed to lose in the first round was 14th seed Daniil Medvedev lost a 5-set thriller to Pierre-Hughes Herbert while Nicolas Mahut eliminated last year's French Open semifinalist (and 16th seed) Marco Cecchinato in another 5-setter.

Some big names had close calls: World #1 (and #1 seed) Naomi Osaka lost her first set in a bagel and was two points from defeat down a break twice in the middle set but after pulling out the tiebreaker was able to run away with the decider. #10 seed Serena Williams lost her first set 2-6 but then turned it around and was dominant in the rest of the match, losing only one game. Close calls were not limited to the women. #5 seed Sasha Zverev took over 4 hours to subdue John Millman and #4 seed Dominic Thiem was basically being outplayed for two sets but managed to dismiss American Tommy Paul in 4. Even last year's champion Simona Halep lost a set in her first round but also won relatively easily in 3.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

2019 FRENCH OPEN: Draw Analysis and Predictions


The 2019 French Open in Paris starts tomorrow. A year ago I was on my vacation and attended the opening day session (and was in the 2nd row to watch Venus Williams lose to Qiang Wang and Sasha Zverev demolish ). The defending champions are Rafael Nadal (d. Dominic Thiem) and Simona Halep (d. Sloane Stephens). However, the top seeds are World #1 Novak Djokovic  and Naomi Osaka, who have both won the last two major tournaments (2019 Australian Open and 2018 U.S. Open) while Djokovic is going for his second career "Nole Slam"!

The draws have been released and these are the projected quarterfinals

MEN'S DRAW

  • N. Djokovic [1] versus A. Zverev [5]
  • D. Thiem [4]     versus J. Del Porto [8]
  • R. Federer [3]  versus S. Tsitsipas [6]
  • R. Nadal [2]     versus K. Nishikori [7]

WOMEN'S DRAW

  • N. Osaka [1] versus A. Barty [8]
  • K. Bertens [4] versus S. Stephens [7]
  • S. Halep [3] versus P. Kvitova [6]
  • Ka. Pliskova [2] versus  A. Kerber [5]

FIRST ROUNDS TO WATCH

  • Aryna Sabalenka [11] versus Dominika Cibulkova
  • Victoria Azarenka versus Jelena Ostapenko
  • Venus Williams versus Elina Svitolina [9]
  • Feliciano Lopez versus Ivo Karlovic
  • Mischa Zverev versus Richard Gasquet
  • Taylor Fritz versus Bernard Tomic
PREDICTIONS:
Men's Final: Djokovic d. Nadal.
Women's Final: Halep d. Kerber.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

2019 NEBULA AWARDS: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal Wins Best Novel!


The 2019 Nebula Awards ceremony occurred over the weekend (in Los Angeles County) and the winner for the Best Novel is Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars! The nominees were:

  • The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK)
  • Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (Ecco; Orbit UK)
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Macmillan)
  • Witchmark by C.L. Polk (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)
Of these nominees I have read Witchmark (see review) and Trail of Lightning (review forthcoming soon) and have already purchased a Kindle copy of The Calculating Stars due to strong buzz on Goodreads. I also hear good/interesting things about Blackfish City so I will probably get around to reading that eventually. I am not a very big Naomi Novik fan so I don't really intend to read Spinning Silver. I wasn't a very big fan of Uprooted even though it won the Nebula award in 2016.

Monday, May 20, 2019

EYE CANDY: Gerardo Gabriel (3rd Time!)




Gerardo Gabriel is a Latino bodybuilder with an immense following on Instagram (1.4 million @gerardo_gabriel). He has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (April 3, 2017 and July 4, 2016). His abs are incredible and the rest of him is not too bad either!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

GAME OF THRONES (S8E05) : "The Bells"






Summary
The episode contains the final resolution of the fight between Daenerys and Cersei for control of the Iron Throne and the leadership of the Seven Kingdoms. "The Bells" is the penultimate episode of the series and so a number of important characters meet their ends. The ones that come to mind are: Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, Sandor Clegane, Gregor Clegane, Maester Qyburn, and Lord Varys.

The most prominent deaths of the episode are of the Lannister twins, Cersei and Jaime. Many, many viewers were very disappointed that the most villainous character in the story (Cersei) was killed not by another character, but by falling rocks. It was an interesting detail that Cersei's death did follow the prophecy that "the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you." The valonqar is the younger sibling, which everyone (including Cersei) took to mean Tyrion, but in the end it was Jaime who had his hands around Cersei's throat as they were both crushed to death. Of course, ultimately it was Dany who killed them, by raking the Red Keep with so much fire that it collapsed, but it was a hollow death, since we didn't get to see any direct or indirect interaction between the two central characters.

The Lannisters' death came after Jaime had killed Euron Greyjoy, whose Iron Fleet had been completely destroyed by Drogon's fire. (Some people who watched the show were very annoyed that one episode after Rhaegal was killed by Qyburn's ballistas that suddenly the flying spears were completely unable to prevent Dany and her remaining dragon from dominating the airspace of King's Landing.) Regardless, the hand-to-hand combat between Euron and Jaime and the fact that they both were able to land fatal blows on each other was an important scene.

Meanwhile Dany was incredibly effective on Drogon, as she basically destroyed both the Iron Fleet and the Golden Company by herself, breaching the walls of King's Landing to allow her remaining troops (Dothraki and Unsullied led by Grey Worm and assembled forces of the North led by Jon Snow) to enter the city.

It's the scenes inside the city which make the episode so harrowing. Once they get inside and the defending Lannister forces realize that Dany can basically kill anyone from the sky they reluctantly surrender their weapons, but once the bells start to ring out and Dany continues her devastating fiery pillage of the city that animates Grey Worm who throws his spear directly at an unarmed Lannister killing him, that sets off the sack of King's Landing and the murder and rape of thousands of innocents. Jon slowly realizes that his attacking forces are committing horrible acts against the defensive forces and tries (unsuccessfully) to prevent the worst of the war crimes, going as far to kill a soldier from the North as he is attempting to rape a woman.

For much of the episode we (the audience) is following Arya, who tries to escape King's Landing while the two armies are battling each other and Dany is dropping dragon fire from the sky indiscriminately. Arya experiences the destruction of King's Landing from the perspective of the women and children of the city and it is terrifying, confusing and amazing. After all the important deaths (mentioned earlier) in the final scene of the episode we see Arya covered in grey ash with multiple injuries and improbably she finds a white horse nearby ready to be soothed and she uses it to ride out of the city to safety. How will she use the fact that she is alive and everyone on her kill list is dead? Only one episode left to find out!

Highlights
The highlights of this episode were:
  • The best line of the episode is Lord Varys' heartfelt "I hope I deserved it. Truly, I do. I hope I'm wrong. " This is what he says right before he is executed by Drogon on Daenerys' command after Tyrion confesses to her that Varys doubts that she is the best person to sit on the Iron Throne.
  • Another important quote in the episode was also done by Varys: "They say that every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath." The implication is that 50% of Targaryen's may be insane, which is problematic when Targaryens have been in the ruling class of the Seven Kingdoms.
  • The direction by Miguel Sapochnik (who also directed the more controversial "The Long Night") was absolutely stunning.
  • The aerial shots of King's Landing as the town was being devastated by Dany and her dragon were incredible. It's even more amazing that instead of filing in Dubrovnik as usual, the producers created a brand new set in Dublin just so they could destroy it!
  • Cleganebowl!
Lowlights
The only lowlight of the episode was that we didn't get to see the face of Daenerys as she decimated King's Landing, thus we were provided any insight into her thought processes for killing so many people and destroying so much property after the bells rang out and (presumably) the city had surrendered. This result shocked a lot of people (not me) so hopefully we do get some kind of explanation in the series finale.

Grade: 10/10

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