Comic Review: Deadly Class

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Deadly Class by Rick Remender

5/5 stars

Deadly Class is packed with so much content that I love. It’s set in the late 80s and follows our main character Marcus Lopez during his entrance into King’s Dominion School for the Deadly Arts. I’m a sucker for the time period and the conventions of the high school setting. Anytime I can get a montage of a veteran at a school giving the new kid a break-down of the various cliques and VIPs, I’m in. The fun twist to the genre here is that King’s Dominion is a school that selects and trains the next generation of assassins. The groups here are mostly determined by the student’s family ties–we have “the preps,” rich children of CIA/FBI agents and another group, “sotos vatos,” hail from various cartel families. Marcus is immediately drawn to a group of misfits and the story is off and running.

I read through Volume One in a day. The action (pretty graphic stuff) takes off quickly and the character development is really done well. Lots of threads have been started in this first installment–Marcus’ mental health issues, a self-proclaimed “mortal enemy,” and even the very beginnings of a romance. Think Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters/Mean Girls school setting meets kickass action story and throw in a lot of darkness and moral ambiguity. I’m a big fan of Remender’s Black Science and despite several people recommending Deadly Class to me, I’m just jumping in now and I’d encourage any of you to check it out!

Comic Review: Black Panther

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4/5 stars

I’m a big Ta-Nehesi Coates fan. You can check out his journalism here and my review of his first collection of essays here (Between the World and Me was my favorite book of 2016). So when I heard that Coates would be writing a comic book–his first published fiction–I was excited.

While some of the dialogue is over-written, there was so much to enjoy about this addition to the Black Panther universe. T’Challa, our main character, is absent for much of the action as the book focuses on other key players that make up the political turmoil and murky ethics that plague the world of Wakanda. This move pays off as the other characters are fully rounded and help to flush out the world and the social and political issues Wakanda is facing.

T’Challa fights, but he unlike other superheroes, he is a king and a part of a rich history of duty and tradition. This difference allows Coates to work with some interesting themes that revolve around country, politics, and what powerful people have to do to stay in power.

Also, it’s just really nice to have two powerful, black queer women at the forefront of a story and the art work is simply beautiful. Check it out!

 

Book Reviews: Commonwealth and Hag-Seed

I’ve almost completed my reading list for January! If you haven’t checked that list out, it’s posted here.

The only book I have left to read is All the Light We Cannot See, which I’m very excited to finally read.

I’ve decided that I’m going to post at least 2 book reviews each month, and I plan on reviewing books I have the most to talk about. I LOVED The Bronze Horseman (a historical fiction that takes place in Soviet Russia), and I may do a short blurb on it, but I’ve decided to focus on these two books instead.

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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

4.5/5 stars

This is a contemporary novel that debuted in September 2016. The novel spans five decades, following the intertwined lives of two families, brought together by an affair, a separation, and several remarriages.

What most intrigued me while I was reading this novel, was how the various connections between the siblings and step-siblings played out throughout the years. The step-siblings only ever spend a handful of summers together, but their actions and relationships have a lasting effect on everyone around them. Caroline and Franny Keating are sisters, the daughters of Fix and Beverly Keating. Cal, Holly, Jeannette, and Albie Cousins are the children of Bert and Teresa Cousins. When Bert and Beverly begin and affair and then marry for several years, the six children become family, until that marriage dissolves as well.

There is an especially poignant moment towards the end of the novel, when Franny Keating cares for Teresa Cousins, in her old age. What an interesting coupling–Teresa is the mother of Franny’s ex-stepsiblings. Teresa and Franny had only ever seen each other once, at a funeral decades ago. The two are basically strangers, but Franny spends Teresa’s final moments with her, and when a nurse asks about their relationship, Franny calls Teresa her step-mother, even though there is no name for what Teresa really is to her. But Teresa is the mother to people Franny loves and sees as brothers and sisters and that’s enough to deeply connect two strangers.

The story is a nonlinear one. Each chapter dances between decades as Patchett slowly reveals more and more about the sibling’s lives. We learn that while in her twenties, Franny dates a famous novelist who writes a book based on the lives of her and her extended family. This fills her with regret, because she has given away a deeply personal story that may not be hers to tell, one that focuses on her ex-stepsiblings and once the story is out there is a struggle and an examination on the ownership of stories and memory.

“All the stories go with you, Franny thought, closing her eyes. All the things I didn’t listen to, won’t remember, never got right, wasn’t around for. All”

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Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

4/5 stars

The Tempest by William Shakespeare tells a tale of magic, fantasy, desire and revenge. Hag-Seed is such a layered retelling of the tempest, it is a play within a play. The book itself parallels The Tempest: Our main character, Felix is cunningly wronged and deposed of by a power-seeking individual. He is ousted as the Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival after a praised career. His wife and daughter have both tragically died, and at that moment he is betrayed by his protege who stages a coup and has Felix fired and physically removed from the theater. Felix than completely disappears from the world and spends years living in a shack, growing mad all whilst planning and obsessing over his growing plot for revenge. His daughter, Miranda, has now been dead for 12 years, but she grows up with him in that shack, and ever more real ghost he resurrects as his companion.

A decade into his obsession on revenge, he creates a new identity and gains a job as a teacher at a correctional facility. Years go by as he teaches the Literacy Through Theater class, until the time comes for him to produce The Tempest and enact his revenge. The reader gets to see the production The Tempest and the progression of Felix’s madness.

Hag-Seed is a fun read. It is dark and dramatic, and it pulls you in to Felix’s plot. You both understand him and hope for him, but you also understand that he cannot sustain this life he has carved out for himself, that Miranda cannot be tethered to him forever. I also found the chapter length to be a great set-up. Most chapters are only three pages long which allowed for quick reading and I felt it really fit the feel of the book (it made it more play-like). I would really recommend this to both fans of The Tempest and people who were never able to get into Shakespeare, because this is a really accessible way to jump in.

2016 Wrap Up, Germany trip, and What’s Ahead

Total Books Read in 2016: 35

Total Comic Volumes Read in 2016: 11

I am really happy with having read 35 books in 2016. I started reading more heavily last May and it has been a pleasure to fall in love with reading once again.

These are my favorite reads of 2016. When I graduated from college two years ago, I scooped up as much contemporary literature I could find. I read Lauren Groff, Rebecca Solnit, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Celeste Ng, and Emily St. John Mande, to name a few. So when 2016 began I felt a shift. The last book I read in December of 2015 was Seveneves, a sci-fi book by Neal Stephenson about the destruction of our moon and a worldwide attempt to save the human race. Only a handful of people survive and the book then jumps 5000 years and we see seven distinct races comprised of 7 million people and I loved every moment of this book. The world-building, the complex female characters, the science. I was hooked.

So 2016 became the year of science-fiction and fantasy reading. Four of my top six picks are within those genres. I also grew to love graphic novels and comics. The first comic I ever read was Ms. Marvel, which tells the story of a muslim girl outsider and boy, did I pick a great character to start my journey with comics. I read the Harry Potter series for the first time. It was, of course, incredible. I also was introduced to Sarah J. Maas’ fantasy series and even got to meet her and get all my books signed. If you love sci-fi and kickass, complex female characters, check her out.

My top book of the year was, without a doubt, Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Between the World and Me. I wrote an in-depth review that you can check out here. Coates paints a striking picture of racism in America and I would recommend anyone read it.

This year was also the first time my boyfriend and I traveled together outside of the United States. We spend two weeks in Germany, exploring Bavaria, and it was an awesome experience. Lots of pictures coming, as I recap my trip via my photo diary.

Our favorite moments included hiking through the Black Forrest:

Visiting breathtaking castles:

Seeing as many museums and art as possible:

Spending two days at Oktoberfest in Munich:

And just enjoying the quiet of the southern Germany countryside:

One thing I will never forget about our trip is the feeling of riding our bicycles through the pouring rain, late at night in the murky darkness that is a midnight downpour, eager to get back to our small home after a day of museum exploring and drinking with new friends. We had taken three buses and then unlocked out bikes at the local train station. It was such a distinct feeling of an unideal situation and feeling exhausted but absolutely loving the moment in this strange country that had started to feel a bit less unknown.

If you read through this entire post, I’d like to thank you for sticking around. 2016 has been a challenging and exciting year. I’ve completed my year-long internship as a Volunteer Coordinator at a Bay Area nonprofit and I’ve been officially unemployed for a month now. I’m working at my internship, and dog-walking, and babysitting while I job hunt. This is the first time I haven’t worked fulltime in about 8 years and it’s a strange experience. I’ve enjoyed my time off but it is also my greatest wish to be able to post about a new job offer at I’ve accepted (at some awesome nonprofit that’s working to combat human right’s issues and systemic racism) sometime within the next two months. I’m excited about the coming year.

Reading Goal for 2017: 50 books!

That’s about a book a week. I plan on continuing to blog and I think I’m going to do a book review once a month on the best book I read for that month. I will also be letting you know which books I’ve read and doing a super quick review at the end of  every monthly TBR list.

That’s it for now. I’ll see you guys next year!

Book Review: Empire of Storms

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

3.5/5 stars

This review is going to be less neat (and out of order because I still need to review Queen of Shadows!) and a bit all over the place, but I am very much short on time and still wanting to get this review written and posted while it’s alls till fresh in my mind. I took about a week to read this novel (700 pages!!) and I’m going to jump right into the issues I had with the book and why the series has dropped from 4/5 stars.

  1. Rowan and Aelin. While I loved their friendship and slight romantic tension in Heir of Fire, seeing their full-blown romance in this novel was not something I enjoyed. I realize that they are going to be together from here on out, and I’m okay with that. It has just become read because what made them so interesting as a pairing has vanished now that they are together. I will touch more on this in my next point.
  2. The lack of character differentiation. Okay, what exactly is the difference between Rowan, Lorcan, Aedion, Gavriel, and Fenrys? I know some fans of this book are going to hate me for this, but literally any of their lines or decisions could be swapped and it would sound completely normal. I get that all fae men are strong and stubborn and territorial but sometimes it feels as if all of these men exist as wish-fulfillment of the idea of a protective and controlling male, while also being progressive because they aren’t human, and so this isn’t how we think men should act in reality. They are other-worldly and animalistic and have these uncontrollable protective instincts because they’ve been breed into them for thousands of years. Don’t get me wrong, Lorcan and Elide’s chapters were some of my favorites to read, but as soon as Lorcan falls for Elide, his personality fades away and most of what differentiated him from the rest is gone. He becomes a character who follows the same plot trajectory of many before him. Same with Rowan and Ailen. Dorian stands out amongst them because he is softer and willing to let Ailen venture off as a means to an end, and Dorian’s past very much affects him and his relationship with Manon. I like Lorcan. I like Rowan at times. Aedion was fantastic. But now, they seem to be all morphing into the same person and that’s no fun. Aedion’s one goal in life was to serve his long-lost queen and for a portion of this book that shifts and he is becomes the lover and defender of Lysandra, and while I enjoy them as a pair I want Aedion to still resonate on paper. I want him to not follow the exact love story of Aelin and Rowan, of Lorcan and Elide, and maybe even Dorian and Mannon. Which is the story of two people who are not supposed to be together but the the men are so enthralled with the women that the they throw away reason (and their personality) to become lover and fierce protector. There is a hint of a shift for Aedion that I enjoyed; Lysandra brings up the idea that Aedion has never really wanted things that weren’t already thrust upon him because of his birth. Aedion echoes this thought in the final battle when he is fighting and the reader sees how he was brutally trained because all he would ever become was the protector of the Queen. I want to see how this motivates him. Anything that helps these guys not lose their depth.
  3. The plot seems all over the place. This is probably because Maas decided to keep the actual mission a secret for the whole novel and then everything seemed haphazard.
  4. The final and worst issue I have with this book is that Maas no longer makes me care about Aelin. Aelin was the reason that I read the first three books. She is such a unique and layered character. She was ultra-feminine, enamored with pretty material things. She was selfish and selfless with those she loved, a cold, calculated assassin with a bleeding-heart. Aelin (or rather Celeana) was a ball of contradictions and power and I loved her for it. Now, the story has become broader and we have all of these fun extra characters and a massive scope, but we have lost sight of Ailen. She wants to be Queen and she wants Rowan. We understand that. But we don’t get to see much else. I think part of the issue is with plotting. The team’s journey seems really scattered and Maas’ has Aelin keep all her plans a secret from her court as well as the reader and I just don’t think that is the best choice. There is supposed to be this huge pay-off surprise at the end, when Aelin’s court and the reader see what she has been orchestrating off page the entire time, but I do not think that they payoff was worth the sacrifice of not diving deep into Aelin’s head and seeing her work to accomplish so much and seeing her weigh the consequences of each decision and basically, just seeing Aelin struggle to live up to what everyone around her hopes she will be. That would have been very powerful. But instead we see Aelin fight some kickass battles, have some witty lines, have sex. We don’t see her humanity.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Darrow demanded.
She looked over her shoulder. “To call in old debts and promises. To
raise an army of assassins and thieves and exiles and commoners.
To finish what was started long, long ago.”

That’s the powerful and awesome Aelin that I grew to know and love. How awesome would it have been if we actually saw her do what she claims here, in the beginning of the novel. Instead, this line exists, and the end of the book exists and it is revealed that she succeeded in her quest, but we didn’t get to join her as she fought for it.

If it wasn’t for the plot issues and my lack-of emotions toward Aelin, this book would have received 4/5 stars. The characters and the power-plays are really interesting. Elide has had wonderful character development. She is so smart and cunning and she while is she fully aware of what a cold and dark world they live in, she (I almost cried) still offered Lorcan a home when he needed it most. Also Maeve’s blood oaths are a fun bit of wickedness. I also love Manon and her storyline. There is so much that is great about this book and I enjoyed it in spite of the many issues I had. I can’t believe I have to wait an entire year to see how this series ends.

I’ll be posting my Queen of Shadows review in the next couple of days. Queen of Shadows only received 3/5 stars, my lowest rating on a book in this series so far. So it was nice to see this book improve on that a bit.

Let me know if you enjoyed Empire of Storms. There was definitely a lot to love.

Book Review: Between the World and Me

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

4.5/5 stars

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a beautiful and powerful writer. He currently writes for the Atlantic and you should go check out some of the articles he’s written, and then read this collection of essays. Between the World and Me is written as a letter to Coates’ son, a study on race relations in America and how racism oppresses and terrorizes black people and their bodies. Coates dives into personal and national history to examine and explain the way systems in the United States work as well-oiled machines that maintain the status quo of assault and violation of black people.

A lot of the criticism of this book has been, “this is too dark, there is no hope in Coates’ words,” and these critics are correct in the describing the book as bleak. I was listening to Another Round, a Buzzfeed podcast, in which Coates guest starred in and spoke about this criticism. Coates explained that as a black writer, people expect him to speak for all of his people. He’s expected to inspire and enlighten and bring about change. As a black writer, he is not afforded the same liberties as Fitzgerald, who was able to paint a picture of excess and social failings. I think that this is an apt analysis of the criticism against Coates. Coates looks at his life and he looks at the history of black oppression and he writes what he sees.

I’m going to include some quotes from Between the World and Me that I found particularly moving.

This first quote appears toward the beginning of the book. Coates breaks down how our belief in race is a tool that perpetuates racism.

“Americans believe in the reality of “race” as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism–the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them–inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores and earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.

But race is the child of racism, not the father.”

The second quote I’m going to include is one that features the American school system, which plays a prominent role in this book. Coates is very critical of public education. To him, schools are where the power imbalance is maintained. You either do well in school, or the streets will claim you and you will end up dead or in jail. If you will adapt and excel in school, you will be taught to exist and work within systems of oppression. Coates calls the classroom a “jail of other people’s interests.”

“But a society that protects some through the safety nets of schools, government-backed homes, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker.”

That something darker is what Coates really dives into, and it is something that pushed me to think even harder about the issue of race. He talks about the Dream, the white man in power and how if there is a mountain of power there must be people left down below in its shadow. Which is all to say that racism exists because people allow it, because people enjoy the benefits they are allotted because of it.

“Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”

 

Book Review: Saga

The nonprofit that I work for is ramping up for our huge Fall fundraising dinner and as such, I’m swamped. Picture: multiple hour long conference calls, hundred of emails and phone calls, spreadsheets and growing to-do lists. I’ve been on vacation from my nanny job for the past week so I traveled down to Los Angeles to hang out with my family. I thought I’d have more reading time but my internship has been kicking my butt. At least I’ve been able to dedicate way more time and energy into getting a lot checked off my to-do list (energy that would have been drained by my other job). That’s all to day, any free reading time I’ve had has been broken up into small bits and it’s hard for me to read a book 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there. I have a tough time getting into the contemporary novel I’m reading when I can’t devote a larger chunk of time to it.

So instead, I read the first 5 Volumes of Saga this week. And Volume 1 of iZombie. And Volume 1 of Black Science. But let me get into talking about Saga.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughn

5/5 Stars

Yes, yes, yes. This was everything I hoped it would be, and more. I went into reading this series with no plot or character information. I knew that it was critically acclaimed and beloved by many and that’s about it. It did not disappoint! Saga is beautifully illustrated. The cover art gives you a glimpse into the art style, but seeing frame after frame of awesomeness is awe-inspiring. Also, the characters are so diverse and layered.

Saga tells the story of two soldiers from different sides of a never-ending war falling in love. Their child narratives the story and we get to see how they are hunted for their love and what it proves, while also getting glimpses into an expanding universe and the history these two lovers are a part of.

Alana and Marko, the new-parents and symbol of change are far from perfect. They can be needy, jealous, violent, stubborn. They are thrust upon a journey they didn’t plan for and through this journey we are able to unlock the political world Saga. I loved every volume and I can’t wait to get Volume 6.

Okay readers, any favorites from Saga? I LOVE Lying Cat. A cat who is able to say “Lying” whenever someone speaks an untruth is a fucking brilliant opportunity for both kickass badassery and some serious sass.

**Quick update on my summer TBR list** As you may have been able to tell, I’ve deviated a bit with reading a bunch of comics, and The Cursed Child. But, I’m still doing okay. I’m halfway through Mr. Penumbra’s 25-Hour Bookstore and halfway through the audiobook for Wolf by Wolf, which I plan on finishing on my roadtrip back home tomorrow. I’ll post reviews on both sometime next week. That leaves me 10 days to finish 3.5 books and a graphic novel. Woops.