Girls of Paper and Fire

By Natasha Ngan

Genre: YA LGBT Fantasy

Avg. Rating: 3.87

“I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.”

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge. (Goodreads)

Its been a while since I’ve read this book, and though my memory of it is beginning to fade I still remember it fondly. It was the first book I had read in a while that I really enjoyed, and was one of the first fantasy books I’ve enjoyed in a few years. I’ve never really been a huge fan of fantasy (unless it is magical realism), but yet this book had me utterly enthralled in the world. So much so, there were times it overwhelmed me and I was forced to set the book down for a short time.

There are many great things about the book, but what made it stand out to me (other than the LGBT representation) was the exceptional world-building. I found the caste system in this book particularly interesting, with its heavy ties to species dictating the hierarchy. An allegory for race, that was inclusive and relatable to all readers. The real surprise was how well-developed and easy to understand it was upon first reading. It was easy to catch on the customs of this society without the book becoming lengthy to the point of absurdity. YA has a reputation for underdeveloped world building, the focus often put on the characters and the situation. While this book is very character heavy, it does a very good job of creating a realistic and understandable world. Not so fantastic that it’s unimaginable, but fantastic enough to allow the reader to escape the clutches of reality. The only downside is, especially at the beginning, the story seemed very info-dumpy. After reading the first few chapters I found my brain a little tired from absorbing so much. Regardless I enjoyed the world.

The true downside of the story, for me, was the characters. They were not bad, in the sense that I enjoyed reading about them, but they were not the best. The protagonist particularly often came off as inconsistent. She constantly went back and forth between being empowering and annoying in her indecisiveness. To be entirely honest, I found her love interest far more interesting, with a backstory more prone to action and with a certain amount of finality in her decisions and fate. Lei, the protagonist, on the other hand, lacked this. And though I understand why the author chose to focus the story on her, I struggled to relate to her constantly going back and forth between deciding to try to live happily and rebel. It is not an easy decision, I understand, but her belief that she had no hope of escaping her reality made her indecisiveness all the more annoying.

I have to admit, that I’ve already recommended this book to a few people because even though some aspects of the characters annoyed me, I still overall enjoyed it. Additionally, I gave it a resounding high rating on 4.7, higher than the average, because I will be definitely rereading it in the future. Additionally, I see myself pre-ordering the sequel when the option is made available.

If you are interested in reading this book, consider supporting your local library and checking it out, and of course, you can always find it on Amazon.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Directed by Rob Letterman

Starring: Justice Smith, Ryan Reynolds, Kathryn Newton

Rating: PG

Genre: Action, Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes: 65%

The story begins when ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu: a hilariously wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth who is a puzzlement even to himself. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to communicate with one another, Tim and Pikachu join forces on a thrilling adventure to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together through the neon-lit streets of Ryme City – a sprawling, modern metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side by side in a hyper-realistic live-action world – they encounter a diverse cast of Pokémon characters and uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe. (Rotten Tomatoes)

So, after my review for Avengers: Endgame, I’ve decided to work smarter not harder (or in my case be lazy) and start inserting the film’s trailer and Rotten Tomatoes description in lieu of writing my own description.  If you would prefer me to go back to writing the description myself, feel free to leave a comment and I will take it into consideration. But for now, this is what you’re going to get.

Now, I am a Pokemon baby. I grew up during the height of Pokemon popularity, and therefore I have an unwavering appreciation and affection for the fictional creatures. And because I am definitely not the only one, I can’t realistically review this as a “children’s movie.” Because most of the children in the theatre were probably dragged there by their parents, who are my age. This is an adult movie, made for those who were around when Ash first started training to be a Pokemon trainer. You can not argue with me, because we all know I’m right.

Subjectively, I utterly enjoyed this movie. With every live-action Pokemon came the overwhelming jealousy of living in a Pokemon-less world where my dog is the closest thing I’ll ever get to a Eevee. The still alive child in me was excited at the sight of classics, such as the titular Pikachu, Charizard, Bulbasaur, and the all-powerful Mewtwo. Little nods to the OG fans, like the Jigglypuff in the diner made me smile ear-to-ear; and the all-too-familiar “pika-pika” melted my fragile heart. If you are like me, born of the Pokemon generation, stop reading this review and just go see the damn movie. You won’t regret it.

Like most people, I was taken aback by Pikachu talking with the overly-familiar vernacular of Deadpool, but once I was actually in the theatre I understood the pure genius behind it. After all, this isn’t a kid’s movie, its an adult movie (I will fight you if you still disagree). And for those who are likely going to force their children into the theatre with them, no worries. Pikachu just sounds like Deadpool with none of the colourful language. Additionally, the film does a good job of world-building without boring us Poke-gen kids out of our minds with stuff we already know.

The more objective film-reviewer in me still can’t really criticize this film because, in general, films marketed toward children are hard to criticise heavily. Most of the negative aspects of the film can be brought down to the fact that it’s meant for “children” and therefore the same level of writing is not needed when it comes to plot and characters. Because, to be entirely honest, I can’t remember the name of the protagonist without looking it up. And this may be because I was too preoccupied looking at all the Pokemon, but still. The plot is nothing to write home about, with a pretty cliche storyline and a twist that can be seen from a mile away; and none of the actors is going to win an Oscar for this film. The main redeemable quality is the CGI, which is well done throughout the film. Though the designers took some creative liberties to make the Pokemon come to life in this live-action world, they are still recognizable as exactly what they are. Textures, such as fur and skin, are rendered beautifully, and the film’s lighting allows the CGI to really shine. It’s a respectable adaption of a beloved franchise, that makes up for what it lacks in writing with its sheer entertainment value.

I whole-heartedly recommend this film for everyone, not just the Poke-gen kids like myself. If you are interested in seeing this film, as of publication of this review it is in theatres.

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.

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.