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!

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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!

 

Books I’ve Read in 2017 & TBR

I’ve disappeared for a while. A new job, a new city and not enough reading and blogging. I thought I’d jump back in by posting a quick post featuring the books I’ve read this year and what I plan on reading next.

Books I’ve completed in 2017:

At 15 novels read so far, I’m unsure that I’ll make it to my goal of 50 books for 2017. I will aim to beat last years 36 books though.

Here are the books I’m reading next:

I will finally be checking The Nightingale off my list of must reads, finishing the final book in the Mistborn trilogy, the second book in the King Fountain series, reading Elizabeth Strout’s newest novel, diving into another classic Neal Stephenson book after I devoured Seveneves and starting two new fantasy series!

I’ll be posting 1-2 book reviews a month so please check them out!

 

 

January Wrap-up February TBR List

2017 is off to a great start. I completed 5.5 out of 6 books from my TBR January List and reviewed Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood and Commonwealth by Ann Patchett which you can check out here.

I’m halfway done with my final book on my January list, All the Light You Cannot See, and I will be posting a review for it in a few days.

Now, on to my February Reading List:

  1. The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman–Historical fiction
  2. Eleanor by Jason Gurley–Fantasy, magical realism, YA
  3. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon–Fantasy, YA
  4. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo–Fantasy, YA
  5. The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie–Fiction, contemporary

I am reading a lot of YA Fantasy this month. I read 4 contemporary novels in January, 2 that focused on the Holocaust, so this month is a little bit lighter.

Okay, so here’s where I’d love some reading suggestions. I’ve decided that March will be my “Classics” month. I want to read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and two other class sci-fi/fantasy books, possibly Asimov’s Foundations series. I also want to read 2 classic lit books.

If you have any classic sci-fi or fantasy novels that you think are essential reading, please comment below and I will add some to my March reading!

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.

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.”