The Darkest Minds

By Alexandra Bracken

Genre: YA Dystopia

Avg. Rating: 4.21/5   

“‘Let’s carpe the hell out of this diem.’”

Superpowers. Sounds fun right?

Well, when you have to survive an unknown and extremely deadly disease in order to get these powers only to be segregated from society and essentially kept in concentration camps is far from fun.

Bracken’s The Darkest Minds Series begins with a very X-Men-esque scenario, as described above. After an unknown disease kills off the majority of the State’s children, only a relatively small percentage are left, but there were after effects to this illness. Those who survived would develop one of a five of abilities ranging from telekinesis to powerful telepathy. These abilities are assigned colours, which are later used to segregated its users, separating them into groups based on their potential threat level. Greens (those with enhanced intelligence) are considered the least dangerous, while the most dangerous include the Red (those with pyrokinesis) and the Orange (telepaths). The most dangerous of the group were often killed on the spot.

The follows an Orange, who against all odds, has survived many years in a “rehabilitation” camp under the guise of a Green. Upon rescue from the camp, she not only realizes just how much the outside world has changed, but she realizes for any true change to occur there are hard decisions ahead of her.

I enjoyed this book, for the most part, though I often found it to be a slower than usual read for a YA novel. This books also differs quite a bit from other dystopian YA in that it tends to take a bit more of a political standpoint on the subjects it presents, while still pandering to the action-filled expectations of it’s intended audience. With many parallels to the ever so popular superhero genre, this book does a good job setting itself apart from other superhero-based stories and succeeds in created characters who are multi-dimensional. The book spends a lot of time on character development, a lot more than you would expect from a YA novel coming at what some may be considered the current fall from grace of Dystopian Sci-Fi.

As I’ve already sort of alluded to I found the book to be a little slow at times with scenes that I did not find entirely necessary (though they did achieve what they were meant to.) My most notable problems with the book are subjective: because when it comes down to it I simply did not find many of the characters likeable. I often found that the protagonist tended to be inconsistent. The inconsistencies are, for the most part, excusable due to the circumstances of the driving plot. Regardless, I often became a little annoyed because the character seemed to have sudden unexplained bursts of a newfound confidence that didn’t quite seem appropriate.

The scoring system that I use is based on a few factors, but the primary fact is my willingness to reread the book and/or series. So far, I don’t have the desire to read this book again, but I am happy I read it because it wasn’t bad. It was entertaining enough to keep my interest. My final rating for this book will have to be a solid 4 out of 5.

If you are interested in this book it is, of course, available on Amazon, and very likely your local library.

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Trying to Work While My Uterus Slowly Kills Me

As I am writing this I am laying in bed with killer cramps trying to concentrate on getting this done. My attention is divided between my computer and a video by Kate Cavenaugh playing in the background, my way of overloading my brain with sensory information in the hopes to overpower my cramps with sheer thought. This doesn’t work very well as someone who suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome as well as endometriosis. Nevertheless, I am pushing through the pain, maybe naively, to get some work done.

Work is one of those things that is always in the forefront of my mind. With the recent sudden burst of visibility, my job as a writer has only become more cemented as my career. This is exciting, but also overwhelming due to the fact that it came to be so fast with little to no warning. As a result, I’ve found myself in a sort of panic to reestablish a routine, only to have it nullified by new occurrences whether they be work-related or life-related. It’s been stressful and oddly exhilarating to the point that I’ve found myself often lost in a stupor of possibility.

Work has been moving steadily and following a pattern that I definitely assumed it would. I’m not surprised to find that my own novel writing is taking up most of my time as my current project, Pixie Dust, comes to a close and I prepare to begin a new project as well as pick up Angel Boy, the effective sequel to Pretty Boy. All the while I am still reading heavily, but for maybe obvious reasons finding that I’m continuously prioritising novel-writing over review-writing. I’ve recently finished reading The Mist by Stephen King and am currently reading I Can’t Date Jesus by Micheal Arceneaux and I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver (which I’ve been very excited for and received early this morning. A whole day early!). Reviews for those won’t come for quite a while, because of the backlog of reviews I have to write, not only for books but for films (I saw Pokemon: Detective Pikachu this passing weekend and you bet I’m writing a review).

To be entirely I honest, I had written down a considerably long list of things I wanted to write about in this update, but due to my mangled uterus making me just want to lay down and revert into a catatonic state, I feel like it is best to wrap it up here. Less so because I want to, more so because my body is an asshole and telling me too.  

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

By Stephen Chbosky

Genre: YA Coming-of-Age

Avg. Rating: 4.3/5  

“‘We accept the love we think we deserve, Charlie.’”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, at this point, is a long-time favourite of mine. At this point, it can probably be considered an older book, but– at least to me– it doesn’t read like that. The many reasons it reads that way is probably the same reason this book is considered banned in many places.

A realistic examination of what it’s like to be a teenager, this book follows Charlie as he begins his first year of high school. Charlie immediately struggles with the transition and it’s not until he befriends two seniors, Sam and Patrick, that his year begins to make a turn for the better. Chbosky leads us through a graphically realistic teen experience that includes concepts regarding LGBT struggles, drug experimentation, mental health, and much more.

I feel like there really is something for everyone in this book. Though I personally did not have the “traditional” teenage experience (far from it, actually) I still find myself relating heavily with the characters in this book. You may not have direct experience with certain things, such as drugs and certain mental health struggles, but it’s hard to be a teenager nowadays without being exposed to these concepts one way or another. I feel it’s even that indirect connection that fosters understanding and compassion for the book’s characters in the readers. Having read many books in my few years on this earth, this is one of those rare books that truly captures what it’s like growing up.

Regardless of all these great things, I am aware that this book is banned in many schools and to some extent, I understand why. I would probably recommend this book for a more mature audience, but not in the sense that maturity equates age. With hard subjects including molestation and suicide, this books is not for everyone. Though I think this should be read by all highschoolers, I admit that the individual should be taken into consideration. I wouldn’t go so far as to right out ban the book, rather, I’d explicitly warn younger readers what is to come and open it up for conversation if there is something they need help understanding.

This is one of my most favourite books of all time and, as a result, I have no excuse for the high rating I give it: 4.8

If you like to read this book you can find it on Amazon, and, because it’s an older classic, it will likely be available at your local library.

Avengers: Endgame (2019) Spoiler-Free

The following review is spoiler-free due to the wishes of and respect for the Russo brothers, cast and crew, and the future audience of this film. A version of this review that includes details regarding plot will be available upon release of the film for home viewing..

Directed By Anthony & Joe Russo

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo

Rating: PG-13

Genre: Action, Fantasy, Sci-fi, & Adventure

Rotten Tomatoes: 96% (as of 04/26/2019)

11 years this film has been in the making. Goddamn. To preface this even more than I already have, let me tell you this review will likely be followed by a personal essay. This was a very emotional event for me, so much so I had to take a walk after watching the film. I ate at a nearby café in the hopes it would console, me. As I write this I imagine I’ll need to take a nap as soon as I finish this.

I’m not entirely sure how to summarize this film in words, let alone summarize it without effectively spoiling it. As a result, I am sort of copping out, and attaching the trailer:

If you are not aware of this long-coming cinematic event I’m not sure where you have been. Even if you are not necessarily a fan of the MCU, you are aware of Endgame. Literally, all you have to do is go on twitter to find this film trending practically every day since its trailer’s release.

Regardless of the fact that I am a life-long fan of comic books and subsequently a big fan of the MCU in its majority, I am still very much capable of seeing faults in this epic. Nevertheless, in this review, I have little negative input to provide because I would be spoiling the storyline as a result. I am therefore essentially left with only positives, which… isn’t a bad thing, I guess. Of course, my final rating does include my current as-objective-as-possible views of the film in its entirety.

The use of CGI in this film is abundant and it is some the best utilization of the technique in an action film I’ve seen in a really long time. Very little about it is revolutionary, and the techniques used in visual storytelling in this film (and many a Marvel films for that matter) are not particularly mind-blowing, but this film is less about the art of cinematic storytelling and more about the power of pop culture. This power is not to be underestimated, as I feel some sadly do because it is diverse and multi-faceted. Not many series can successfully become so integrated into so many facets of life, whether it be books, toys, attire, and so on. Not many series can do so so effectively.

Gosh, this whole review is a struggle. Can I just say watch the dang movie, invest, if you can, and see it in theatres? I really don’t think I can hold in the spoilers and talk about the film at the same time. Am I copping out? Yes. Should you see the movie, also yes. My rating 94%.

I’m going to take a nap now.

My Hero Academia Vol. 1

Written by Kohei Horikoshi

Genre: Shonen Manga

Avg. Rating: 4.46

My favourite panel.

My Hero Academia (also known as Boku no Hero Academia or 僕のヒーローアカデミア) is a popular Japanese manga (and anime) series created by Kohei Horikoshi and follows the trials and tribulations of a young man named Izuku Midoriya. In a world where the majority of people are born with powers called “quirks” the job of pro-Hero is given to those who chose to use their quirks in the pursuit of justice. Midoriya, a quirkless middle schooler dreams of enrolling in the Hero course at the prestigious U.A. High, the alma mater of his idol All Might. We follow as he begins his journey towards becoming the world’s number one hero and the new symbol of peace.

Volume One, which includes chapters 1-7 both introduces us to the majority of the series key characters as well as introduces you to the world and its quirk system. Following the introductions, the series goes into what might as well be its first arc, which I will call the “Deku v. Kaachan Pt. 1;” which follows the first fight between the protagonist Izuku and his rival Katsuki. The end of the manga marks the beginning of this arc.

From what I’ve seen the main arguments against this book is that the plot and world design is considerably derivative, reviewers often citing its similarities to Marvel’s X-Men series. Though I agree with that at face value, I will argue that this is not sufficient when all things are considered. Borrowing concepts is common practice in comics and all storytelling mediums for that matter, and as a result, what really matters is how it’s executed. It’s well known that the author, Horikoshi, is a fan of American comics, so it is reasonable to conclude that it did, in fact, influence his work, but that isn’t a bad thing. Having only read the first volume it is easy to focus more on what is evidently derivative, but that is not enough of a sample size to call the series itself that. I will simply say, if you don’t like this volume because of its similarity to other works, at least read up until the third volume. Due to this volume’s focus on character and world-building, I would say that the true story doesn’t start until the following volume. (I’d like to add that I find this series to be a good introduction to America comics to Japanese readers, and vice verse with Japanese manga and American readers.)

When it comes down to it, this volume does a good job at what it set out to do, though I believe it is probably the worst of the beginning volumes. I wouldn’t find it fair to complain much though, considering this was a very formative and challenging time for the writer who was relatively new to the fame this series would gain. Additionally, many serial writers often need some time to truly fall into rhythm with their story.

With all things considered I eventually gave this volume a high rating of 4.5, mostly based on my understanding of where this introduction eventually leads and my own experience in serial writing.

For those interested in reading this series check it out on Amazon, or read it via Shonen Jump/Viz Media’s websites/apps.

Await Further Instruction (2018)

Director: Johnny Kerorkian

Starring: Sam Gittens, Grant Masters, Neerja Niak

Rating: NR

Genre: Horror

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

While I watched this movie on a Friday, I wasn’t quite confident enough to write a review for it until the following Monday. Not because I found this film so intellectual or amazing in some other way that I needed time to understand it; but because I needed time to figure out what exactly the film was trying to. It is evident from the beginning the intentions of the film, but it simply falls short of actually doing achieving what it wants to.

When the ominous message “stay indoors and await further instructions” appears in the television of an already torn family, tensions rise as no one can agree on what to do next. As the promised instructions start to appear, the (already horrible) family dynamic is thrown out the window as what little bit of familial trust that may have existed is quickly dissolved. As characters trust each other less and less it becomes evident to the protagonist that an there is something potentially otherworldly going on.

Now, first of all, it was so refreshing to see practical effects! Though at times this seems to be occasionally augmented with some minor bits of CGI, the fact that the film uses this now archaic technique is quite a breath of fresh air. For many horror film purists, practical effects might as well be the modern day holy grail with the power to save otherwise dull movies. Which, when it comes to horror films, this film did, in fact, feel quite dull. Aiming for more nuanced psychological horror the film definitely fell short, succumbing to its overdone themes and failing to present a truly unique story.

With themes of corruption and cult-like devotion, the feel doesn’t do a very good job at presenting these in what should have a character-driven plot. From the very beginning, the characters were unpleasant and in their own ways corrupt. Noone truly changed, for better or for worse, everyone was just insufferable (with the exclusion of maybe the protagonist’s girlfriend).

For this film to have worked it would have likely needed to present a family dynamic much more healthy than the one in the film. Allowing for otherwise good characters to surrender to their inner demons and not-so-perfect beliefs. Even though the antagonist in the film is an omnipotent alien, it may have been in the interest of the filmmakers to research the dynamics of real-life cults, where the corruption of vulnerable individuals is common.

Honestly, I can’t think of very many people I would recommend this film to. Though on paper the concept seems interesting it simply isn’t well executed. I had to take a break while watching the film simply because I was bored out of my mind. In the end, I have to give the film a final rating of 25%.

If, for whatever reason, you’d like to check out this film feel free to do so through Amazon, or, more conveniently, Netflix, where it is currently available.

The Hunger Games, Revisited

By Suzanne Collins

Genre: YA Science-Fiction

Avg. Rating: 4.33/5

“You don’t forget the face of the person who was your last hope.”

Do I really need to write a synopsis for this book at this point? Whatever… Let’s get this over with!

In a post-civil war United States now called Panem, a battle royale is held among 24 children between the ages of 12-18, chosen in pairs at random from twelve districts. The titular Hunger Games is used as a form of propaganda to remind the citizens of Panem what would happen if they revolt against the countries capital. When a young woman named Katniss finds herself in the arena she is forced to make some hard decisions in order to survive.

When I first read the Hunger Games I was starting middle school and preteen me loved it! Me now– who is not only an adult but a writer– found the book mediocre at best. My primary complaint, which seems to be common, is regarding the protagonist Katniss Everdeen. While rereading the book I found it hard to understand her and her overall personality. It seems as though her personality changes for the convenience of the plot. Though acting differently was crucial for her survival, her mental commentary was inconsistent in its representation of her true personality. She seems to constantly change her mind for the sole purpose of progressing the plot when it starts to fall a little short. Additionally, the use of dues ex machina was often obvious, and could leave the reader thinking: Well that was convenient.

I have to give the book credit, though, for being a good battle royale. It introduced many to the concept for better or for worse, as well as sparking a mass interest in YA fiction and dystopian settings. Additionally, the world is well developed and even with the relatively minimal introduction, it is easy to understand. Part of this may as well be due to the fact that Panem is a post-civil war United States– this fact may not always be obvious to younger readers. Character-wise, secondary characters were handled very well and were well written as well as consistent. In fact, I can’t help but believe the book would be overall better if it had been written in some interaction of the third person.

At the end of the day, I have to give the first book of this series a lower rating than the average. After some consideration, I have decided to give this book as solid 3/5.

If, for whatever reason, you have yet to read this book, it is available on Amazon; as well as your local library.