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Comic Reviews: Ladies of Marvel & DC

I’ve read more comics and graphic novels so far in 2016 than I had in my entire life before January. I resisted reading comics for the longest time because I found them so intimidating, but I finally took the plunge and started reading whatever seemed interesting. Of course, this meant a lot of superhero stories because as was made evident in my Superhero YA video, I love the superhero story arc.

I’ll admit that I’m much more of a Marvel fan than DC, but this month I picked up two DC and two Marvel comics that sounded really exciting, so I’m going to share my reviews with y’all! While I know the larger Marvel universe much better than DC, I was still able to dive into these stories and really enjoy them.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I listed Kamala Khan in my Superhero YA Books I’d Love to Read post, and reading the first volume of her arc as Ms. Marvel only cemented that opinion. Kamala is such a wonderful MC – she’s brash and defiant, but she’s got a heart of gold. However, some better/further explanation of how exactly she acquired her powers and how they work would have really helped (maybe this will come up in future issues). I loved seeing Kamala’s home life alongside her first forays into superhero exploits, and it was so refreshing to see positive Muslim representation in what is usually a boringly WASP medium. I did find that her family members where portrayed a bit stereotypically at times, but hopefully that something that is improved upon in later volumes. I’m definitely going to continue with Kamala as Ms. Marvel, and can’t wait to see what she gets up to next. 

Batgirl, Vol. 1: Batgirl of BurnsideBatgirl, Vol. 1: Batgirl of Burnside by Cameron Stewart
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Aside from Alicia Silverstone in Batman & Robin, this was my first formal introduction to Batgirl as a character. I loved this modern day millennial take on Batgirl, and the every day life portions of this volume ended up being some of my favorite scenes. I loved the artwork, especially how the female characters are drawn. There’s a brilliant cameo from Dinah/Black Canary, and she totally stole the show from Babs more often than not. While I liked the style of this, I found the actual plot to be somewhat lacking. Individual issue conflicts/story lines were tied up a little too easily, and the overarching plot of volume one had me scratching my head and whispering “wtf.” And once again, it was solved rather simply. I really came to adore Babs, so I’ll likely continue with her arc, but I hope that future issues have story lines that are match the epic art style.

Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, MoreCaptain Marvel, Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More by Kelly Sue DeConnick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Going into this trade, the only thing I knew about Captain Marvel was that Kamala Khan (aka Ms Marvel) idolized her. I knew that Carol Danvers was an iconic member of the Avengers and larger Marvel Universe, but I went into this newer arc blind. You don’t get Captain Marvel’s origin story in this volume, but thanks to a child’s drawing in the first few pages I got caught up to speed. I really came to like Captain Marvel throughout this first volume, and she’s a badass pilot who’s not afraid to fly into space and fight a sky full of spaceships on her own. There’s even a cameo from the Guardians of the Galaxy! The art style wasn’t my favorite, but I appreciated that it was bold like Captain Marvel, so it still felt cohesive. The storyline itself felt a bit too “white savior,” especially in the last two or three issues. I might pick up volume two, but this first volume didn’t blow me away.

Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham AcademyGotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boarding schools are one of my all-time favorite settings, so I was predisposed to like Gotham Academy. It’s been highly recommended by several of my favorite YouTubers with comic-focused channels, so I decided to finally pick up volume 1 and see what the fuss was about. First, I have to say that the art is BEAUTIFUL, and the coloring was so amazing that I had to stop and just take it all in before moving on to the next page. I also really liked that we get a cast of characters in this, instead of the usual superhero vs the world. Olive is the main character and narrator, and things were hinted at in this first volume that make me really excited to see what happens to Olive in later issues. Although there wasn’t a lot of closure at the end of this, I liked that we’re clearly setting up for a longer, more involved story arc at Gotham Academy.

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After reading my very first DC comics, I’m definitely intrigued to read more! I think Black Canary will be next on my DC list. Do you have any comic recommendations, Marvel/DC or otherwise? Let me know!

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Superhero YA Books I’d Love to Read

Yesterday, I posted a discussion video on my YouTube channel about the rise of Superhero YA. You can check out that video HERE if you’d like more information, but basically, I am a huge fan of the growing trend of YA novels about comic book superheroes. Starting with Black Widow in 2015, and looking ahead to the four DC/Random House books coming 2017 – 2018, it seems like the hot new trend in YA sports tights and a cape. Sign me up.

As someone who unashamedly loves the superhero narrative – but still loves a villain, let’s be real ok guys this is me after all – I’m so excited to see what’s in store. As I said in my video, I never read comics growing up and still find them intimidating, but I’m really into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and holy hell Suicide Squad looks right up my alley. So I thought that I’d compile a list of my top five superheroes who I’d like to see get the YA treatment, plus a couple villains because sometimes you can’t help but root for the bad guy. Maybe that’s just me.

1. JEAN GREY. Growing up, I was an X-Men girl, and Jean Grey was my FAVORITE. I know we’ll see young Jean Grey in the next X-Men movie, but I would love to get a YA novel from her perspective. Jean struggles with the intensity of her powers in a different way than her cohorts, and I think this would provide a great framework for a story. Plus, teenage X-Men at boarding school is just so very much a thing I want.

2. SPIDER GWEN. As much as I love Peter Parker, Gwen Stacey as Spider Woman is such an awesome novel waiting to happen. I’ve actually read the Spider Gwen comics, and this is a character and story arc that I really enjoy. Gwen plays drums in her all-girl band, The Mary Janes, and tries to reconcile her vigilante justice with her father’s status as head of police. This is prime novel material, people!

3. BLACK PANTHER. Aside from his role in Captain America: Civil War, I know little to nothing about T’Challa, which is A CRYING SHAME FOLKS. A prince who becomes king and a superhero, T’Challa has a lot going on – it can’t be easy to run a country and be an Avenger. Plus, he’s the first black superhero in a mainstream comic, and it’s time we stop accepting the media’s insistence that you must be a white man to be the hero and worthy of a story. Personality-wise, T’Challa is such a refreshing divergence from snarky Stark and whimsical Rogers. In my opinion, he’s one of the most exciting characters in the MCU, and while I’m so pumped for the Black Panther movie in 2019, I think a YA novel about this character would be awesome.

4. MS. MARVEL. Kamala Khan is Marvel’s first Muslim headliner, and oh is she awesome. Who wouldn’t devour a YA book about a sixteen year old who finds herself with super powers? Uh, no one, that’s who. Comics are woefully male, pale, and stale, but the latest incarnation of Ms. Marvel shows just who really runs the world. Girls. I know that Kamala Khan’s comics are very recent releases, but they’ve created great buzz, so all the better to capitalize on that popularity and write a book.

5. DEADPOOL. Because obviously. I don’t know how a teenage Deadpool story would work, but I want one.

I just realized these are all Marvel characters, whoops. If you’ve got DC recommendations, let me know!

And here are a couple villains I’d like to see featured, if not in their own novel, then at least in their superhero counterparts’ books: Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn. Loki, and Magneto!

What are some comic characters you would like to see get their own YA book? Let me know in the comments!

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Mini Reviews: YA Contemporary

The Art of Not BreathingThe Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story of grief, and a family’s inability to deal with it, really drew me in. Elsie’s twin brother drowned five years ago, and she starts free diving because she can remember that day more clearly when she’s holding her breath on the sea floor. There are some really great aspects of this novel – Elsie’s brother Dillon’s eating disorder and the free diving, specifically – that made me want to love The Art of Not Breathing. However, the issues I had with this story were troubling enough to sour the entire reading experience. As our protagonist, I found Elsie annoying at best, insufferable at worst. I wanted to shake her more than I wanted her to succeed. Also, there was a bullying subplot that felt very disconnected from the main story line and therefore came across as forced. Why does your MC HAVE to be bullied? I cannot overstate how much I HATED the love story in this book. Word to the wise: when a college-aged boy shows interest in a 16-year-old girl, he is bad news. Not only was a romantic subplot completely unnecessary in this story about grief, but the direction it took was infuriating: it became an even cheaper plot device. Oh my god now I can’t stop thinking about this shitty male character and insipid MC who allowed it like Jesus Christ. I need to get back on track. Aside from the “love” story and Elsie herself, I did enjoy the part of the story that was actually focused on this family’s collective and individual grief. But the aspects I disliked ruined the rest for me, so I can only rate this as a (generous) 3 stars, even though the parts that were actually about the loss of Elsie’s brother I found to be really captivating.

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Wild SwansWild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t know what it is with recent YA contemporaries and me, but oh man I am unimpressed. Once again, this book had an intriguing premise that sounded promising: Ivy comes from a long line of brilliant yet seemingly cursed women, and the pressure to develop an outstanding talent of her own is overwhelming. Then, the mother who abandoned her after birth shows up – with the two daughters she’s actually raised, turning Ivy’s life upside down. Dun dun dunnn, exciting drama right? No. Every character in this book was either outright heinous or annoyingly cliché. Seriously, I cannot point to a single character that I genuinely liked. My biggest problem was Ivy’s mother. She is hands-down one of the worst characters I’ve read in recent memory. We never get any real excuse for her actions, which perhaps pisses me off even more. I don’t like to throw this word around lightly, but Ivy’s mother is a straight up bitch. And! She forces everyone to act as if Ivy is her sister, not daughter. SERIOUSLY?! There’s also a romantic subplot that of course becomes a tiresome love triangle between Ivy, her life long best friend, and the tattooed hipster poet. Pass. I could appreciate what Spotswood did by including characters like Ivy’s radical feminist friend and a transgendered child, but in execution it just felt so heavy handed. All of this ranting and I haven’t even commented on the plot or writing…probably because they were both so underwhelming. In terms of a rating, this book fell somewhere between 2 and 2.5 stars.

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ARC Review: The Darkest Corners

Title: The Darkest Corners
Author: Kara Thomas
Publication Date: 4/19/2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House)
Format: eARC*
Goodreads | Book Depository

“For fans of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places and Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars, The Darkest Corners is a psychological thriller about the lies little girls tell, and the deadly truths those lies become.
    There are ghosts around every corner in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Tessa left when she was nine and has been trying ever since not to think about it after what happened there that last summer. Memories of things so dark will burn themselves into your mind if you let them.
    Callie never left. She moved to another house, so she doesn’t have to walk those same halls, but then Callie always was the stronger one. She can handle staring into the faces of her demons—and if she parties hard enough, maybe one day they’ll disappear for good.
    Tessa and Callie have never talked about what they saw that night. After the trial, Callie drifted and Tessa moved, and childhood friends just have a way of losing touch.
    But ever since she left, Tessa has had questions. Things have never quite added up. And now she has to go back to Fayette—to Wyatt Stokes, sitting on death row; to Lori Cawley, Callie’s dead cousin; and to the one other person who may be hiding the truth.
    Only the closer Tessa gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer—and this time, it won’t be so easy to run away.”

I’m not a big fan of thrillers – I don’t do scary movies, I’m not the type to watch murder mysteries all day. So I was very hesitant to read The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas. A YA thriller about a girl who returns to her hometown years after her testimony sent a serial killer behind bars, only for the case (and her memories) to be blown open when another girl is killed in the same way.

While I’m not a convert yet, The Darkest Corners was an exceptional first foray into the thriller genre for me. Thomas’ writing kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and for all of the twists and turns in this book, I was riveted. Even the ending of this book, in which Thomas continues to drop huge bombs of knowledge on the reader, was incredible. Just like the end of a Criminal Minds episode, you’re left seeing the connections, but with questions that will keep you up for hours afterward. Wait, I’m already at the end, let’s rewind.

My preference is almost always for books that are character or world driven, instead of plot. Thrillers, and especially The Darkest Corners, are understandably plot driven. This really worked for me within the context of this story, because I found that while I liked Tessa enough as an MC and found her familial relationships and friendships interesting, I did reach a point where solving the mystery became way more important to me than the cast of characters. The characters felt a bit underdeveloped, and I never felt connected to any of them. This is especially true of the secondary characters, who were largely interchangeable and static. I found the cast of characters and their interactions to be the weakest part of the story.

There were lots of red herrings in this story, which I’m sure some people may have issues with, but it honestly didn’t bother me. The murders are the main mystery, so to speak, but they open up so many other unknowns that the last few chapters of the book were one crazy reveal after another. I actually enjoyed this, realizing just messed up the situation was with each subsequent plot twist. It was certainly entertaining. The Darkest Corners also touches on the idea that you never really know what someone is capable of, including the people you think you know best.

After reading The Darkest Corners, I’m definitely intrigued to pick up more thrillers, so any recommendations are appreciated! While I definitely had some issues with this story, The Darkest Corners was a crazy, twisted ride of a thriller that will certainly keep you guessing until the last page.

Rating: 3.5 stars

*I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Top 5 Classics I Want to Read

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I don’t read many classics. Of course I spent years reading them for school, but the amount of classics I’ve read for pleasure are few and far between. Lately, however, I’ve found myself acquiring beautiful editions of classics, stories I’m drawn to now that I would have passed by before. This is probably in part because I’m following more and more classics readers in the book community that are inspiring me to read outside of my usual YA box.

Today I have five books to share with you, either recently acquired or long possessed, that I want to read soon.

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen. The only Jane Austen novel that I’ve read is Pride and Prejudice (I know, shame on me), but Persuasion has really appealed to me lately. A book about second chances, Anne Elliott’s story really appeals to me as someone else who wants another shot. This is my friend Amanda’s second-favorite Austen (after P&P, duh), and she promises me this is wonderful and romantic.

2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I watched the BBC miniseries of North and South last year, and I immediately knew I’d have to read the original. North and South is probably best described as the northern, industrial version of Pride and Prejudice, with more socio-economic themes and conflict. Southern and genteel Margaret Hale is forced to move north with her family, where she meets John Thornton, the cotton mill owner who seems to embody all of her prejudices against the north. They obvs have some quips and misunderstandings and ultimately fall in love, but lord knows there’s nothing I enjoy more than a “from hate to love” story. Plus, if you haven’t seen the BBC miniseries, you need to. Richard Armitage as John Thornton is SO DREAMY Y’ALL.

3. Villette by Charlotte Brontë. This is 100% because of Alycia at exlibris. She reviewed this book on her channel and I immediately knew I needed to read it. Villette is lesser known in comparison to Charlotte’s beloved Jane Eyre, but it’s a story that I can relate to more personally. Lucy Snowe moves to a small village in France to teach at an all girls’ boarding school. While there, she struggles with isolation and loneliness, as well as a romantic subplot. Lucy is apparently an unreliable narrator, which always makes for an interesting reading experience. We’ll see if I end up enjoying this more than Jane Eyre.

4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I mentioned this in my 2016 TBR Challenge post, and I still haven’t read it, whoops. I’ve had it for ages and at this point, it just needs to be read. I don’t have anything particularly inspired to say, other than I keep seeing this on my shelf and think, “yes, I know I’m neglecting you. Some day soon I’ll get around to it.” Plus, this is such an iconic book with intriguing themes, so I do genuinely want to read it. It’ll happen.

5. A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf. Way back in the day, younger Jane did not get along well with Virginia and Mrs. Dalloway, to my professor’s eternal frustration. Years later, I never thought I’d be this excited to read anything by Woolf, but I am so looking forward to reading A Room of One’s Own and its sequel of sorts, Three Guineas. Adapted from lectures, A Room of One’s Own is arguably Virginia Woolf’s most famous, and most feminist, essay. In the extended essay, Woolf argues for women to have their own (literal and figurative) space in the male-dominated world of literature.

Those are the five classics at the top of my TBR! What are some of your favorite classics? Do you have any recommendations of classics you think I’ll enjoy? Let me know in the comments!