Graphic Novel Review: X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 1

Over the weekend, I finished rereading X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Prelude and I continued with my reading by rereading X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 1 (Graphic Novel 352 pages).

“Welcome to a world not our own, where a man named Charles Xavier never formed a team of young outcasts to protect the planet from the threat of evil mutants. Where a war between the two species of mankind has laid waste to civilization. Where a being who believes the weak should be crushed under the iron heel of the strong lords over all. Welcome to the Age of Apocalypse!”

I think one of the main reasons I’m so drawn to rereading these stories from my youth is that I have always pictured my own novels more in graphic novel format and less as words on a page. Granted, I like both different formats for books, those with only words and those with pictures and words, but sometimes my mood dictates which I would rather read. The Age of Apocalypse remains one of my absolute favorite comic book storylines for a lot of reasons, probably at least partially because of where I was at in my own life when these originally came out, partially because of the fascinating story and characters, and mostly because of how much I relate with so many of the things the characters experience.

The main focus for characters in this book are Clarice Ferguson (Blink) and Nathan Grey (X-Man), with Magneto, Rogue, Gambit, Cyclops, Havok, Sabretooth, and Mr. Sinister also having a good portion of back story and character development. The interesting part of using Clarice and Nathan as the main characters in this book is that they are not characters with massive stories outside the Age of Apocalypse. In fact, both characters are almost strictly characters only seen in this world. Nathan Grey is the genetically created child of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, grown in a lab run and created by Nathanael Essex (Mr. Sinister). In the Marvel Comics prior to the Age of Apocalypse, Nate Grey is the child of Scott Summers and Jean Grey’s clone who is then infected with a techno-virus (by Mr. Sinister) which has no cure in this age so Nate Grey is taken to the future where he becomes Cable. Nathan Grey in the Age of Apocalypse is Cable without the techno-virus, which means the character development is completely different, as Cable and X-Man have vastly different histories. Clarice, though, only made her debut in the comic books when the Phalanx showed up in the crossover. Clarice was introduced and then sacrificed herself to remove the Phalanx. Both of these characters were born and raised in the Age of Apocalypse and while readers are passingly familiar with their genetics and their powers, these two characters are unique and readers have no preconceived notions of their character or their stories.

This was originally from Marvel’s Blink 4, but more recently can be found in X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 1. Inside credits are listed as: Plot: Scott Lobdell; Script: Judd Winick; Penciler: Trevor McCarthy; Inkers: Rod Ramos, Rick Ketchum, Tyson McAdo; Colors: Those Guys at Liquid; Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Saida; Assistant Editor: Pete Franco; Editor: Mark Powers; Blinked: Joe Quesada.

The main reason the X-Men comic books always appealed to me is that they took people who were noticeably (or not noticeably) different from the prescribed societal norms and gave all those different people a place to belong. A place they feel welcome and can call home. A place where they can make a positive difference in the world around them. For any minority population, the X-Men are a group of people who inspire hope – a hope that the world can be a better place, but that any dream worth having is a dream worth fighting for. Even through all the darkness in the world, there is always hope.

There’s a part in this book where Sabretooth is talking to Blink and he says: “It’ll be all right, girl. Sometimes you have to take solace in fate. Fate brought you together, and it broke you apart. But it can never change how you feel. Nothing is ever diminished just because it ends … don’t ever forget that. Don’t ever give up on your past.” And once again, I find myself having all sorts of feels because of a comic book telling me that I am who I am for a reason. Even though I sometimes like to hope that the way my life is now is not the way my life will always be, that someday I will be able to share my life with someone I love who also loves me, it’s something I forget sometimes.

Most of the comic books collected in this compilation are actually ones I might have in storage at home but not ones I have with me now, and possibly ones I don’t recall reading. When the original Age of Apocalypse hit in the mid-1990s, I was in high school and my sources for money were severely limited, especially with college looming on the horizon. Of the comic books collected in this volume, I think I only have two of them, so most of this story was quite new to me. Even though the story was new to me, it still flowed in logical order and it only made several references to comics I had not yet read. So when I say the story still makes sense even if you didn’t read these as they all came out over 20 years ago, I mean it.

One of the things I like best about this compilation is how Marvel Comics takes all the issues from a massive event like this and puts them all in chronological order so you don’t have to jump from one graphic novel / trade paperback to a different one in order to figure out what’s going on and when it happened. This storyline is all complete and chronological, so it makes perfect sense, even if you’ve never read these comic books before. Then, they even number the books so you know what order to read them in. It’s very convenient and makes this a lot more like reading an actual book, just a book that also uses pictures to tell the story.

Overall, I’d happily rate this book as a high three on my rating scale. I’m happy I own it and I will continue to reread it periodically in the future.

These books talk about hope without being preachy about it. These comic books have real messages about making the world a better place. So to the artists and writers, to all the creators and creatives out there, thank you for what you do. The books, novels, artwork, graphic novels, fanart, and everything you create matters. Keep doing what you do and maybe we’ll all someday live in a better world, filled with more hope.

The original comic books were published in 1995-1997, 2001, and 2005, from X-Men Chronicles 1-2, Tales from the Age of Apocalypse: By the Light, X-Man 1, X-Man ’96 Annual, Tales From the Age of Apocalypse: Sinister Bloodlines, and Blink 1-4. Those original comic books which are now compiled into the sixth printing of X-Men: the Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic Book 1, published in 2011. Writers: Howard Mackie, John Francis Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, Scott Lobdell, Ralph Macchio, Terry Kavanagh, and Judd Winick. Pencilers: Terry Dodson, Steve Epting, Nick Napolitano, Joe Bennett, Ian Churchill, Roger Cruz, Alan David, and Trevor McCarthy. Inkers: Klaus Janson, Al Milgrom, Joe Pimentel, Scott Hanna, Al Vey, Steve Moncuse, Bob Wiacek, Bud Larosa, Wellington Diaz, Mark Farmer, Robin Riggs, Tyson McAdoo, Rodney Ramos, Rick Ketcham, and Norm Rapmund. Colors: Matt Webb, Kevin Tinsley, Gloria Vasquez, Mike Thomas, Tom Vincent, and Liquid. Cover Art: Joe Madureira and Tim Townsend. Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft. Cover Colors: Avalon’s Matt Milla. Editors: Kelly Corvese, Matt Idelson, Mark Powers, and Jaye Gardner.

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Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

I’d heard good things about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle so I took a bit of a road trip in order to kidnap a friend and go see it and I’m absolutely happy that I did.

“Four high school kids discover an old video game console and are drawn into the game’s jungle setting, literally becoming the adult avatars they chose. What they discover is that you don’t just play Jumanji – you must survive it. To beat the game and return to the real world, they’ll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, discover what Alan Parrish left 20 years ago, and change the way they think about themselves – or they’ll be stuck in the game forever.”

This movie is hilarious. I admit to being at least partially skeptical about the reboot and using a video game console for the movie instead of the board game which has been traditionally used, but I think they did a really great job with this and the actors and actresses they picked for each role were absolutely spot on. I mean, really. Imagine Jack Black pretending to be a self-absorbed, well-off, blonde, hot chick. Bethany’s character arch is definitely one of the most significant in the movie and it’s done marvelously. Also, the women in the theater laughed more and louder than the men in the audience, which was interesting for a movie that had only two real, named, women characters. Would I have liked to see more women in the movie? Absolutely. Do I understand that the video game industry still thinks that most video gamers are men and will cater to their needs by making avatars appealing to the male gaze or worthy of the players’ envy? Unfortunately true.

But this movie was absolutely NOT a “bro movie”. The humor was well-rounded and actually funny and even poked at a lot of the modern stereotypes. I especially liked all of the character’s special skills and how those were implemented throughout the movie, at the most random of times. The use of a special skill for the distraction at the transportation shed was one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen in quite some time and I laughed for a while on that one.

Overall, this movie was a lot of fun and I’m definitely going to purchase it when it comes out on video. The characters were believable and interesting and their development about learning how to get along with and take care of each other was really touching. Obviously, this movie was about finding out who you are and what truly matters to you and working to take charge of your own life, even when things are not going nearly the way you think they should. I’d easily rate it as a high three or even a low four on my rating scale. That might change with subsequent watchings of the movie because only time will tell how well the humor holds up.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part Two

As a reward for passing my essay exam Monday morning, and subsequently the important class I was enrolled in, I went to the bookstore and picked up the first two official graphic novel continuations of the Legend of Korra series, the Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part Two (graphic novel 76 pages) created by Bryan Koonietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. This particular book is written by Michael Dante DiMartino, layouts by Irene Koh and Paul Reinwand, art by Irene Koh, colors by Vivian NG, lettering by Nate Piekos of Blambot, and the cover by Heather Campbell with Vivian NG.

“New beginnings for Korra and Asami! On a return trip to the Spirit World, Korra and the Airbenders discover that the lush, beautiful landscape is now dark and desolate – and what little flora remain want to drive humans out! Meanwhile, General Iroh establishes a military presence on the outskirts of the portal, further threatening the balance of human and spirit relations. When things seem to be at their worst, Republic City’s housing crisis reaches its peak and Zhu Li sets her sights on the biggest public figure in the city – President Raiko – in a bid for the presidency! With her friend’s success, the future of the spirit portal, and the wellbeing of Republic City’s citizens at stake, can Korra remain neutral and fulfill her duties as the Avatar?”

I am continuously fascinated by how this series in general deals with politics and the current political environment without this even being about our own modern world. For example, President Raiko is only focused on getting reelected and not on actually listening to the needs of the people. And then he goes around using everything that’s happened in Republic City during the Legend of Korra animated series to make life worse and more miserable for Korra by blaming everything on her instead of working to find a positive solution that would help the majority of his constituents.

Then you get Zhu Li who is working so hard to try to provide for the people and improve their living conditions but she’s going mostly unnoticed in her efforts. This series also shows the difficulties of people in large groups. I’m positive that individually, all the normal people in this series who are refugees and such are wonderful individuals, but when grouped together as a whole, they definitely develop an unhealthy mob-like mentality where they’ll believe whatever voice is talking to them at any given time and not think for themselves, nor attempt to work to solve their issues. They are all quite good at saying what all their problems are but none of them appear willing to go the extra mile to help get their own lives and the lives of everyone else in their situation back to a semblance of positivity.

Korra and Asami’s relationship is being shaped very well and I appreciate the writers for not making everything automatically perfect. Korra and Asami both have a bit to learn about how their relationship works and what each other’s boundaries are, which I think is a very healthy way of representing a real relationship. Korra and Asami are both very strong-willed and they are having some mild communication errors, which makes perfect sense for where they are. I was so hoping to see their date, though. Korra clearly worked to make sure she looked fantastic for Asami and she knew Asami wouldn’t have stood her up. So while I understand and appreciate the plot progress, I am hoping to get to see the date in the next issue in June. I hope we get to see all the cute and romantic things.

Overall, I’d rate this graphic novel as a solid high three on my rating scale. I’m happy I purchased the first two, I look forward to book two in June, and I’ll happily buy more as they’re produced.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One

As a reward for passing my essay exam this morning, and subsequently the important class I was enrolled in, I went to the bookstore tonight and picked up the first official continuation of the Legend of Korra series, the Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One (graphic novel 76 pages) created by Bryan Koonietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. This particular book is written by Michael Dante DiMartino, art by Irene Koh, colors by Vivian NG, lettering by Nate Piekos of Blambot, and the cover by Heather Campbell with Jake Bak.

“New beginnings for Korra and Asami! After a refreshing sojourn in the Spirit World, Korra and Asami return to Republic City but find nothing but political hijinks and humans vs. spirit conflict! Pompous developer Wonyong Keum plans to turn the new spirit portal into an amusement park, potentially severing an already tumultuous connection with the spirits. At the city’s edge, Zhu Li enlists everyone she can to aid the thousands of hungry and homeless evacuees who have relocated there. Meanwhile, the Triple Threats’ ruthless new leader, Tokuga, is determined to unite the other triads under his rule, no matter the cost. In order to get through it all, Korra and Asami vow to look out for each other – but first, they’ve got to get better at being a team!”

This was a really short, but good, read. One of the interesting parts to me is that this is not a “normal” graphic novel or comic book size book. Instead, it’s a bit smaller, which I liked a lot better.

I also liked that the story didn’t pull any punches. This first graphic novel is focused on Korra and Asami’s budding relationship and how hard it is sometimes to find a good balance with someone you care about. Both Korra and Asami are highly dedicated and strong-willed, which means that finding a balance for them is going to be a lot of communication and a lot of making sure they’re being good for and to each other. I think the relationship portrayed in this story is actually accurate.

Overall, I’m happy I purchased this graphic novel, I’d rate it as a high three, and I’m excited to read the next books in the series.

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Movie Review: Spider-Man Homecoming

Again, I find myself avoiding my mountains of homework and studying in favor of taking a mental break. As it turns out, mental labor can be just as exhausting as physical labor and I desperately needed a break from all the intellectual stuff I’ve been doing. I’d heard good things about Spider-Man: Homecoming and decided this would be a good night to chill for a little bit, eat some pizza, and watch a movie.

“A young Peter Parker/Spider-Man, who made his sensational debut in Captain America: Civil War, begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging super hero. Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Peter returns home, where he lives with his Aunt May, under the watchful eye of his new mentor Tony Stark. Peter tries to fall back into his normal daily routine – distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man – but when the Vulture emerges as a new villain, everything that Peter holds most important will be threatened.”

This movie was both funnier and more moving than I thought it would be. It was nice and refreshing to also see a Spider-Man and Peter Parker who was every bit the very young teenager Spider-Man typically portrayed. It was also refreshing to see a distinct lack of storylines focused on the romance aspect or Peter doing anything to get a girlfriend.

One of the things that really struck me about this movie is that Peter Parker really has a rough go of things. He wants to do the right thing but he doesn’t have the resources to make as big of a difference as he wants. And then when he’s faced with impossible situations, he still makes that impossible decision, no matter the cost to him and the things he wants in his life. That’s the true story of what being a hero means – it’s doing the right thing, no matter the cost, and whether or not anyone else is watching.

I also watched some of the deleted scenes, including the ads Captain America did for lice, school lunches, reading, math, and other topics. I can’t decide whether those were ridiculous or just plain sad and I wound up having a discussion with one of my friends about how Captain America: the Winter Soldier was actually one of the most heart-breaking stories in the comic book world because what happened to Bucky Barnes is exactly what would have happened to Steve Rogers if Steve hadn’t been frozen for 50 years – he would have wound up as a political pawn for people who would abuse his abilities and his position. Which is one of the reasons that Spider-Man is such an iconic character – he comes from nothing. He’s not rich and he struggles to just make ends meet. He isn’t a god from another world, he isn’t a trained espionage expert, and he doesn’t have any special magic powers. He’s just a high school kid who wants to do something bigger.

Overall, this movie is easily a high three on my rating scale. I’m glad I own it and I’m positive I will watch it again in the future.

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TV Show Review: Carmilla seasons 1-3

So I spent the better part of the last two days binge-watching Carmilla seasons 1-3 instead of doing my copious amounts of homework or studying for my exams or even working on the group project, to which I was thrown under the bus as the group leader.

“A modern take on Sheridan Le Fanu’s gothic novella, Carmilla follows Silas University freshman Laura Hollis, as she investigates her the disappearance of her roommate while dealing with her odd, nocturnal and sarcastic new roomie Carmilla – who may or may not be a centuries-old vampiress. Mixing the camp of Buffy, the snark of Veronica Mars and the eerie quality of Welcome to Nightvale, Carmilla is a transmedia narrative that expands to fictional twitter and tumblr accounts to Wattpad storytelling.” -summary retrieved from IMDB

Ads, gifs, and pictures from this series constantly show up on my tumblr and I was finally procrastinating enough to want to check out this series to figure out what was going on with it and I’m glad I did.

The first and most important thing I have to say about this series is how wonderful it was to have such a plethora of representation. The main characters, Laura and Carmilla, are definitely lesbians and Laura is even openly a lesbian, as mentioned by her father in season three. Another main character, LaFontaine, is non-binary and uses they/them/their pronouns. LaFontaine is also incredibly smart and uses a lot of science to solve many of the concerns of the team during the three seasons. Perry and LaFontaine have an extremely powerful platonic relationship and LaFontaine seems to have issues with excessive personal contact. Mel is fun for her athleticism and dislike of Laura and Carmilla and it was highly amusing to watch her hunt Kirsch. Mattie was a wonderful character and I absolutely enjoyed her fashion and culture discussions while she made mass murder sound positively refined. The students all represented different organizations commonly found on college campuses and it was interesting to see them all interact.

I wasn’t really a fan of the vlog-style of story-telling at first but as the episodes carried on, I was mildly surprised at how much story and character this represented. The story was told entirely through the purposeful direction of the characters and this required very minimal special effects and set changes. The characters made a willful choice to interact or not with the potential audience, which meant they mostly had to describe events from their own perspective. This is kind of fascinating to me because without being able to witness certain events ourselves, the viewers are limited to what could be a series of unreliable narrators and the audience would never know. So I found it to be a rather fascinating method of telling the story.

Overall, I think I would rate this show as a high three on my rating scale or perhaps even a low four. All of the characters were very endearing and I really needed to see a story with multiple happy endings, both the return of an important friendship and ways for someone who believes in others to have a happy ending. And that redemption might actually be a thing. There were a lot of really moving moments and a lot of strong emotional considerations in this show. I think I’m going to see if it’s one of those things I can buy on dvd, as well as the Carmilla movie. I also think that if I can find the whole thing on dvd that I will happily purchase all of it and watch it again in the future. Possibly repeatedly.

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Short Story Review: The World That Forgot How to Dance by Olivia Berrier

I met Olivia Berrier at Confluence in Pittsburgh last year and picked up the printed format of her short story The World That Forgot How to Dance (Fantasy 72 pages).

“Dancing destroyed a village … Ellsie lives in a world where magic is controlled by dancing, and both have been illegal for the past three centuries. No one really knows what happened when the village of Laenin was leveled, but the magic of dancers hasn’t been trusted since. The world is better off, they say. The loss of dancing is a fair price for protection against magic so powerful and unexplainable. Ellsie, however, still dances in secret, and she figures she can’t be the only one.”

I read this as a break from a lot of really intellectually and academically heavy work I’m involved with because of a class right now and it was a welcome break. This book also created a very unanticipated emotional reaction in the sense that I again felt the loss of a friend I miss very much. While we never danced, I think that we would have had a lot of fun and laughter if we had. The World That Forgot How to Dance made me yearn for someone I care about to be around so that I could ask them do dance, which would be highly amusing because I have the gracefulness of a dying cockroach 🙂 But the feeling was there, all the same. And maybe, just maybe, someday, that individual will give our friendship another chance. This is a book about hope and dancing, after all 😉

There was a part of the story, as I continued to read, that made me concerned that the story was going to take a very dark turn and I would have been upset if that was the case because I really needed something positive to read with where I’m at right now. As a point of reference, today is the four-year anniversary of when I walked again for the first time after being on crutches for three solid months. I mean, I was on crutches to the point of not being able to use or touch my leg at all. I clearly remember how it felt, four years ago, to walk again for the first time. I remember how hard it was, but how much I wanted to dance and move and express my joy at movement, especially after such a lengthy constriction to my ability to walk, let alone dance.

This story was a perfect testament to both my memories of that day and where I’m at now in my life.

It was an interesting story with an intriguing premise and it really made me want to dance and long for someone to dance with. So because of the unanticipated emotional reaction to this story, I would rate it as a high three on my rating scale. I’m glad I picked up the story and even more moved by how odd my timing was to be reading something like this at such an auspicious time.

Berrier, Olivia. The World That Forgot How to Dance. Unknown: 48HrBooks, 2015.

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Book Review: Hello World by Tiffany Rose and Alexandra Tauber

The first book for my 2018 Asexual Reading list was Hello World (Science Fiction 185 pages) by Tiffany Rose and Alexandra Tauber.

“In a world where a technology company can buy your personal freedom, Scott is a hacker ready to prove that a single voice can be a powerful weapon. Scott’s skills as a surveillance expert are useful when he’s breaking down firewalls. But hacktivism isn’t enough; he’s going after the holy grail: UltSyn’s Human Information Drives, human assets implanted with cerebral microchips. After digging deeper into restricted databases, he discovers that those who enlist with UltSyn get far more than they bargained for. Plunged into a world of human trafficking and corporate espionage, Scott is determined to find his sister, no matter the cost. But when the information he uncovers reveals the people closest to him have been working for UltSyn all along, he has to find her before UltSyn finds him.”

I found a lot of very relatable content in this book, especially when Scott is interacted with the other people in his peer group or his social circles. The part where his other hacker associates are discussing how they’d never been able to find where Scott hid his porn amused me because it was clear to me that Scott didn’t have any porn. This might seem odd to many people but being asexual means that you don’t experience sexual attraction. Obviously, it’s different for everyone and some asexuals have a significant sex drive, even though they don’t experience the attraction. Some asexuals are sex-repulsed, and some only develop the ability to participate in sexual acts with those whom they have developed strong emotional attachments. Still, his lack of porn and his absolute disinterest really resonated with me, as I am cut from a similar cloth.

The concept of this story is very intriguing, especially with the way corporations and technology are both progressing in our modern society. The society presented is not specified as to the timing, but it seems like it could be very near future, which is also interesting to me. As our own society continues to move along the path where humans are just pieces of equipment, the treatment of the people who function as living hard drives is similar to those of all marginalized people throughout all of history; they’re treated as things or as tools and not as people. That’s what makes the concept of the future presented in this novel so uncomfortable – it’s realistic for the very near future.

I spent a lot of time while reading this novel wondering if the roles could have been reversed to highlight an amazing hacker woman who steals a human man while looking for her brother. I know there’s a lot of discussion these days about how women aren’t as heavily represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields and I wondered if doing a role reversal like that would have allowed for the same customer base and potentially alienated all those readers who still think STEM fields are for men. At the same time, though, I have to wonder if the story might have resonated more with me if Sonia had been that fantastic hacker and Scott had been the human package.

Overall, I’d say this book is a low three on my rating scale. While the concept was interesting and the characters had relatable moments, I was frustrated that the first Ace book I read for 2018 included a main character who was Ace but wound up in a heterosexual relationship where they had sex. I do have to add the disclaimer that just because the main character is asexual and had sex does not make him less of an asexual. This may not seem like a big deal, but I’m searching more and more for situations and characters I can truly relate to, and one of the things I’d really like to see is a relationship that is still strong but doesn’t involve sex. I also understand that authors have to tell the story true to them and that no one can please everyone. This book is a solid read if you enjoy technology and espionage.

Rose, Tiffany and Tauber, Alexandra. Hello World. Unknown: Pandamoon Publishing, 2017.

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Book Review: Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai

I recently read Witness the Night (Mystery 210 pages) by Kishwar Desai, which was a book I picked up during my travels.

“Durga. A fourteen-year-old girl, found all alone in a sprawling house in Punjab. Silent, terrified, and the sole suspect in the mass murder of thirteen members of her family. Simran. A whisky-swigging, chain-smoking social worker from Delhi. She is Durga’s sole hope, for Simran is the only one who believes that she may be more a victim than a suspect. As Simran tries to unravel the mystery of what really happened that night of the multiple murders, she comes in close and often uncomfortable contact with Jullundur and its people, from Durga’s enigmatic tutor Harpreet and his disfigured wife to the picture-perfect high-society Amrinder and her superintendent husband Ramnath. The prejudices she encounters are deep-seated and the secrets manifold. And Simran knows she cannot rest until she has uncovered the whole truth. A chilling first novel that gets to the heart of tradition-bound India.”

Some time recently, I decided a viable goal to increasing the diversity and representation throughout my own work was to diversify my reading in order to see how authors from other cultures and backgrounds write and how that impacts the characters and world-building. I am looking for the casual representation that “everyone from that culture just instinctively knows” in order to add more depth to my own writing, as I don’t want to just slap on the Diversity Sticker TM. I don’t want to just say, “Look! Look! I said this character was a minority! Because I mentioned their skin color or something!” I don’t want that to be my version of diversity. I want my writing to have more substantial representation, which means being able to see the world through eyes that do not reflect my own upbringing or cultural background.

While reading this book, I took notes on all the casual uses of words unfamiliar to me. These notes and the subsequent google searches provided me with hours of cultural terminology which I, as an outsider-looking-in, will definitely need to continue to research if I want to include any of this in my own work. My list of words includes (but is absolutely not limited to) shamshan ghat, phool, Ganga, salwar, khadi-clad, sardarni, sikhui, lakh rupees, kolhapuri, chappals, brah mastra, rakshasas, sardar, salwar kameez, and so many more. Those are just what I found in the first ten pages of the story. Reading the entire book was an eye-opening experience, not just for the terminology, but also for the cultural content.

This book was dark on a level I was not intellectually prepared for when I began reading and the story itself made me extremely uncomfortable in a lot of places. I’m going to say the intent of a well-written story is to push your boundaries and encourage an emotional reaction of some sort, which this book absolutely achieves. The mystery portion of this book is written in such a way that the solution was not obvious until the end when more of the story is revealed. I don’t really want to say more about the book for fear of giving things about the storyline or plot away.

Overall, I’d say this book is a two on my rating scale. While I’m happy I own it and I’m happy I read it because it was definitely an eye into a very unfamiliar world to me, the sheer darkness in this book was very disturbing to me. As I live and work in an environment where I’m sometimes faced with the best and worst that humanity offers, I usually spend my reading time with books designed to help me step away from the horrors of the real world. The writing style is poetic, for all that the content was fairly dark, which was interesting. I may or may not read this book again in the future but I am glad I have it as a reference for diversity.

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Book Review: The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

I actually finished the fourth book in the Magisterium series, The Silver Mask (Young Adult 232 pages) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare earlier this month but I was mildly distracted by other things that needed to get done.

I lack the ability to talk about this book without some massive spoilers concerning this book and all the books previous in the Magisterium series so if you haven’t read this book and you haven’t read any of the other books in the series and you want to be surprised about the direction of either, you probably shouldn’t read any more of this review and should come back once you’ve finished this book.

“Power over death is the ultimate power. A generation ago, Constantine Madden came close to achieving what no magician had ever achieved: the ability to bring back the dead. He didn’t succeed … but he did find a way to keep himself alive, inside a young child named Callum Hunt. Now Call is one of the most feared and reviled students in the history of the Magisterium, thought to be responsible for a devastating death and an ever-present threat of war. As a result, Call has been imprisoned and interrogated. Everyone wants to know what Constantine was up to – and how he lives on. But Call has no idea. It is only when he’s broken out of prison that the full potential of Constantine’s plan is suddenly in his hands … and he must decide what to do with his power.”

One of the biggest components to this book is the new and budding romance and sexual attraction for Call and Tamara, which is fairly standard for most books in this age grouping, I think. I’m resigned at this point to so many stories, especially coming of age stories, where physical attraction becomes a key motivational factor throughout the story. I guess one of the things that is a little disappointing is that if you’re going to have new romantic and physical attraction, maybe include some queer representation, too. So far, only Master Rufus has any queer inclination and his is mentioned only in passing at the beginning of this book, where he talks about falling in love with a man he met in a library. Out of an entire school of young people, Jasper doesn’t lose Celia because Celia has a crush on Tamara (or any of the other named girls in the series), nor does any character in this series demonstrate any sort of feelings or romantic or sexual attraction for anyone other than the standard heterosexual pairings. I feel like the younger generation I know right now is a lot more in tune with “non-standard” pairings and that it’s fairly common with younger people, so not having explicit representation is frustrating.

Meanwhile, this story has a lot of really interesting ethical considerations and it’s fascinating to me to look at where the line between ethical decisions is drawn. On the one hand, you have a young preteen who misses his friend so much that he’s willing to try to bring him back from the dead, and not just as a mind-controlled zombie, but as a living person with his own personality. Call invests part of his own soul in order to bring Aaron back to life, but even then, it’s still just a shadow of who Aaron was when he was truly alive. Even Aaron says there’s something wrong inside him and Call tries to repair what might be wrong instead of fully accepting that death is something people shouldn’t mess with. Sometimes, horrible things happen and people we care about die or are killed and this series to this point, especially this book and the previous book, make it a point to acknowledge that you have to let people go or you risk doing them more damage.

My personal theory is that Aaron has now moved into Havoc’s body when Havoc was killed so it’ll be interesting to see in the next and last book in this series, The Enemy of Death (scheduled for release in September 2018), how things are tied up. The end of this book had a pretty solid conclusion until you read the epilogue, in which case, things went very badly, very quickly.

Overall, I’d rate this book as a three on my rating scale. I’m glad I own it and will likely reread it in the future. I’m highly likely to purchase the fifth book when it comes own later this year.

Black, Holly and Clare, Cassandra. The Silver Mask. New York: Scholastic Press, 2017.

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