Review: “Batman: The Killing Joke” animated film

THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM BOTH ‘BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE’ COMIC AND THE FILM I’M REVIEWING TODAY. IF YOU’VE READ THE COMIC BUT HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM (OR VICE-VERSA), PLEASE GO WATCH IT BEFORE CONTINUING TO READ.

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Comic books. They’re a staple of literature and the superhero genre. They are often a kid’s introduction to their favorite superheroes, from DC Comic’s charismatic Superman to Marvel’s popular Avengers, comic books are fantastic gateways of fiction for many fans of superheroes. They don’t just have entertaining heroes and action, but good drama, complex characters, wonderful stories, and dark tones that give way to great stories.

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Review: “Pax” by Sara Pennypacker

What makes the bond of an owner and a pet so special? What makes that bond so inseparable in someone’s youth and adulthood? These are questions I’ve asked ever since my first dog died over a decade ago, and I’ve learned the answer to as I grew up.

“Pax” is a novel I initially noticed while visiting a local bookstore, and was drawn to how simple yet detailed Jon Klassen’s illustration of the cover showed. Add Sara Pennypacker’s heartwarming and poignantly timeless writing style similar to “Coraline”, and you get s novel that left me yearning for a good ending.

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Top 10 LGBT YA Novels I Recommend

Before you read, I’d like to dedicate this post to all the families and victims hurt in this morning’s tragedy. For those who for some reason haven’t heard, a lone shooter mercilessly massacred fifty people and injured just as many at a gay nightclub (called Pulse) in Orlando, Florida. Police are still investigating into further detail, but it is a known fact that this wasn’t just a random shooting. This was a hate-fueled attack meant to kill and harm innocent people.

If anyone is reading this, don’t pray for repentance or hate, but pray for the families and friends that have been affected by what many are calling the worst mass shooting in United States history. Do not call for gun control. Reports are coming in that the gunman was posing as a security guard and guns were not allowed in the club. If there is anything we should call for, it’s for the acceptance of LGBTQA+ people everywhere, and to fight homophobic attacks like this with love and understanding.

To everyone affected by the shooting, everyone is hearing your cries. And to everyone else, I have a quote for you from a Holocaust survivor named Henry Golde, “Hate is nothing, and love is everything.”

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          Gay literature is an iconic part of the LGBTQA+ community, especially towards teenagers and young adults, so in celebration of LGBT Pride Month, I’ve decided to make a Top 10 list for the best gay young adult novels I wholly recommend. Now, there are a few rules to this for anyone who’s reading. The first rule is that these entries have to have an LGBT person as the protagonist and not just as a side character. Second, it cannot be explicit and must be readable for anyone from fourteen to even nineteen years of age. And third, having no more than two of an authors’ works is acceptable by my standards because granted, I haven’t read every gay book for young adults; heck I’m even including ones I’ve reviewed on here already. And keep in mind that this is a recommendation list and not a list of the greatest LGBT young adult novels.

With that said, here’s the Top 10 List of LGBT YA Novels I Recommend.

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Thoughts on ‘The Boy and the Beast’

For anyone who doesn’t know the name Mamoru Hosoda, he’s a critically acclaimed Japanese director whose written and made recent but wonderful anime classics such as “Wolf Children”, “Summer Wars”, and the wonderfully titled and well-known anime film “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”, all three of which I have seen and hold dearly to my heart. “Wolf Children” is a touching story of family and coming of age (as well as a fan-favorite for furries such as yours truly), “Summer Wars” is a science fiction adventure great for watching on July evenings, and “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is a cult classic for time-travel stories. And later last year, Hosoda released another potentially timeless classic for anime fans called “The Boy and the Beast”.

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Review: ‘God of Clay’ by Ryan Campbell

‘God of Clay’ is the first book in Ryan Campbell’s ‘Firebearers trilogy’, and a personal favorite of mine. This is an intriguing YA(ish?) novel for those like me that love diversity, especially if it’s in African tribalism. I mentioned this book before in my review of ‘The Golem and the Jinni’, and how amazing it was in feeling like a legend or a fairytale, except it has modern story telling with fleshed out characters, a simple storyline, and a mythos that feels too genuine to be fiction. With that said, there are a few things in ‘God of Clay’ that may turn a few heads. It’s not a problem or anything, but it is worth talking about later on.

In a vast African land of animal deities and spirits, a tribe of humans have settled near the edge of a massive jungle next to their savanna home. After losing their lands to a wrathful god of fire named Ogya, they hope to start anew while praying for miracles. And in this nomadic tribe are Clay and Laughing Dog, two brothers (and sons of the tribe’s King) more polar opposites than mine. Clay devotes himself greatly to the gods and worships without hesitation while Laughing Dog believes them to be nothing but ancient legends. After both brothers make a bet that end up with Clay having an injured foot, Laughing Dog ends up being banished by his father as punishment and for endlessly mocking the gods. Clay soon becomes depressed, and prays for a miracle.

That miracle comes to him one night in the form of an anthropomorphic leopard named Doto, the son of the forest god Kwaee, who has been tasked by his despicable father into kidnapping a human and finding out why they have come to his forest. Kwaee loathes humanity, and sees them as vermin who burn and destroy in the name of Ogya. After Doto manages to convince Clay that he himself is (technically) a god, the reverent human ventures with the leopard on their journey. At first, Doto mirrors his father’s views on the human, until he begins to realize how similar he is to Clay, and that they may share a bond that transcends taboo in their world. However, little do they know that the two of them have a shared destiny that will change both them and their worlds forever.

In the three years that this has come out, I am absolutely shocked that this has not gotten that much attention or reviews by other critics. Granted it isn’t published by a massive publishing company, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that this is an intelligently written book that I frankly believe deserves to be adapted into a film someday (I said it, so believe it!).

Let’s firstly talk about the two main characters Doto and Clay. Clay is presented as a meek but confident human who worships his gods with great devotion. He may not be strong or intelligent in the wilderness, but he’s very optimistic when he wants to be. This highly contrasts to Doto who is basically a self-righteous little child that sees Clay as nothing more than subordinate. Even so, he has this fragile belief that he’ll gain the love and attention of his uncaring father by following his bidding. This allows us to understand his mindset and know why he acts the way he does toward Clay, and we begin to warm up to him more as the both of them tear down the barriers of god/mortal to survive on their journey. This eventually leads to both the leopard deity and human mortal wondering why there’s a divide between gods and humans and if it can and should be broken.

Laughing Dog’s story is also very wonderful to read. Here we have a young man who’s convinced that the gods are nothing but myths and legends, and is angered and bitter that the people and elders of his village do not see his point of view. However, he’s not a stick in the mud or an asshole; you understand that he only wants to help his tribe survive in the harsh environment and sees the reliance on gods as an obstacle for progress towards a better life. What I love about this is that Laughing Dog isn’t a one-sided villain who hates religion for the sake of it, he only wants his tribe and the rest of humanity to rely on themselves and not in faith. ‘God of Clay’ wonderfully touches on issues such as the separation of church and state, belief vs. faith, tradition vs. change, and it makes you question (in the words of the novel):

“How far would you go to follow your gods? And how hard would you fight to defy them?”

Much like another small personal favorite of mine named ‘Things Fall Apart’ by the late Chinua Achebe, ‘God of Clay’ makes itself timeless and beautifully descriptive by telling the culture and daily life of this tribe, which it helps us connect to the characters. Campbell even incorporates actual African tribal culture into their world. For example, Clay mentions to his companion that whenever a woman gives birth, it’s tradition for her to name the child after the first thing she sees. Reading the novel, you hear every mosquito buzz by your ear and feel the heartbeat of the African landscape through every page that your fingers touch. Combine all of that with a good plot and complex characters, and it’s an addictive read.

Before you go buy this book (which I still highly recommend), I should probably warn you of a scene that comes up later in the book. It’s not a major spoiler, since it is highly hinted at early on in the novel, but this may be a huge turn-off for a few readers. Remember how I mentioned that the main character’s bond transcends taboo in their world?

See…Doto and Clay have a physical attraction for each other. Yes, a physical attraction between a walking-talking leopard deity and a human. There’s especially a scene in the third act where they get sexually intimate, but only for half a page. Going in, I didn’t know and thought it’d be a general friendship, but Ryan Campbell went the extra mile. And honestly, it could’ve been kept hidden, but I didn’t mind there being a romantic relationship between Doto and Clay, since it makes them even more interesting and makes you wonder if gods in their world are allowed to fall in love with humans, especially if both of them are male. Did a sex scene need to be in there? Probably not, but it didn’t last a whole page and I’ve read MUCH MORE mature content that’s allowed in school libraries.

Overall, ‘God of Clay’ is a perfect novel for the bookworm interested in cultural commentary and the perfect novel for fantasy-lovers. With a twist on African lore and a fictional realm you’ll never want to escape, go read Ryan Campbell’s first book in surely a phenomenal trilogy.

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Review: ‘The Golem and the Jinni’ by Helene Wecker

Merry December everyone!

I may have said this before, but I adore fictional books that dive into different cultures, such as ‘Milan’, ‘Things Fall Apart’, and even very fictional novels such as ‘God of Clay’. I love how we learn about traditions, taboos, the attitudes of the people, and especially some history and religions behind it. Add two different cultures to it, and you have got an amazing historical read such as Helene Wecker’s ‘The Golem and the Jinni’.

Before I talk about the plot, I should probably explain what a golem and a jinni are. In Russian-Jewish folklore, a golem is a clay humanoid creature made by mystics to serve as slaves to a master. They can be shaped to look like an ageless man, woman, or even a child. As for a jinni, they’re beings of fire in Syrian legend who are said to be both angel and demon while roaming the desert, and can be caught in an iron oil flask (Aladdin inspiration much?).

In this novel, we follow a quiet female golem recently created named Chava, whose master died at sea on their voyage to 1899 New York City. Masterless and longing for a purpose, she’s greeted by a kind rabbi named Meyer who knows what she is and does his best to help the golem with her situation. Our second main character is a passionate jinni named Ahmed, who awakens from a millennial-long slumber inside an iron flask to find himself in Manhattan’s Little Syria without any memory of how he got there. After taking a job as a tinsmith’s apprentice, Ahmed and Chava meet by chance one night and discover that the other isn’t human. Confused on what they are, they decide to help each other out, as both of them are in a predicament as Ahmed is bound to the flask he came out of, and that unknown to them Chava’s creator (a man named Yehudah Schaalman) is out to destroy the rogue golem.

As a first novel goes, I have to say I am thoroughly impressed with Helene Wecker. While her writing style isn’t exactly memorable or stands out compared to other authors, the idea of tying two different creatures from two different cultures is brilliant! I haven’t seen a perfect match made in heaven forever. From afar and while reading the story, ‘The Golem and the Jinni’ feels almost like a fairy tale of its own, in the same way books like Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’ does. It feels very refreshing to read a story that came from the mind of a talented person, and the idea alone gives this book a unique identity.

The golem and jinni characters in this are well-written and memorable, and surprises me the more I think about how different but similar they are. With Chava, she’s a clay creature that was made to live forever in servitude, and the idea of not having a master and feeling the needs and desires of every New Yorker she passes gives her a real character as she builds herself to be independent if she wants to survive. However, she can also be curious, loyal to her acquaintances, and is genuinely confused on how she can live a normal life even though she isn’t human. Then we have Ahmed, who is a creature of fire that is akin to passion and desires. He can be cheeky, cynical, yet has a confidence that makes him not only entertaining but also interesting in the mystery of his backstory. I especially love how Ahmad often risks himself in danger knowing he could be outed as a jinni, but he still does dangerous things like have sex with an upper-class woman or jump across the rooftops of Manhattan. This proves that while he is careful, he doesn’t want to be entirely hidden from the world. Writing this fantastic is especially showcased with the conversations Ahmad and Chava have talking about the differences and similarities between their cultures

This so easily could’ve been turned into a standard Romeo-and-Juliet story, but I was impressed when the author decided to not have them become romantic partners, but actual good friends. That’s rare, especially the way it was building up.

Then we have the side characters, who are fleshed out and seem like actual people. Rabbi Meyer kind of reminds me of the priest from ‘The Fifth Element’, where he thrives on faith, yet likes to keep to himself. He’s welcoming to strangers, and is determined to help the mysterious girl despite the risks involved. The villain in this is also entertaining and deviously intimidating, also determined to take Chava for himself as her new master.

The only thing for other readers that may confuse people is the complications of how Ahmed is tied to the flask and the reveal of his master. While I thought it was an excellent reveal, they never hinted at it or that it is possible or even believed in the Syrian culture. I’m not sure, but maybe it’s a useless nitpick.

Besides that, ‘The Golem and the Jinni’ is a beautifully written fairy tale set in historical New York that will brighten the hearts of readers everywhere. With two great main characters, a wonderful dive into two opposite cultures, and a timeless window to the year 1899, this book is an adventure I would personally recommend to everyone.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

Review: ‘Go Set a Watchman’ by Harper Lee

(Warning: this contains spoilers to ‘Go Set a Watchman’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’)

It’s pretty hard to talk about this novel without talking about the author herself. Harper Lee became famous when she published her first and (until recently) only novel named ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in 1960. This was perfectly published in a time when racial tensions in the US were heavily tensioned. People fell instantly in love with it, and has since become a massively iconic piece of literature addressing both childhood, prejudice, and loss of innocence in the world. Even today, it still captivates readers and has become the definition of a perfect novel over the decades. The protagonists (specifically Atticus Finch, Scout, and Jem), are perfect, the story timeless, and the novel an amazing experience.

Like everyone else though, I felt very conflicted when it was revealed an older Harper Lee decided to release the sequel she wrote for it decades ago. On one hand, it would be nice to see our favorite characters again, but on the other hand it may ruin our view on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. And after reading it only three weeks after being published my opinion may anger future readers of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ to the point of them spamming me with hate mail.

I thought it was okay.

Twenty years after the events of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Scout Finch has changed from a tomboyish six year-old into a tomboyish twenty-six year-old. Living in an apartment in New York City, Scout (now referred throughout the novel as her birth name, Jean Louise) visits her hometown of Maycomb County, Alabama to say hello to her aging father, the iconic protagonist Atticus Finch. While staying for the week, she meets up with an old childhood friend and lover named Henry ‘Hank’ Clinton (who keeps proposing to her throughout the novel), does her best to tolerate her aging Southern belle Aunty Alexandra, and discovers how much Maycomb County has changed, but remained the same since her departure.

I knew people were polarized about ‘Go Set a Watchman’ but this is ridiculous.

Before going on with this, I should bring up two things that may shock the reader(s). Firstly, ‘Go Set a Watchman’ is the original draft of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, and some argue whether or not Harper Lee, who now lives blind and deaf in a nursing home, would have allowed this to be published. I could go on and on about this in another post, but I have to bring up the second most shocking thing about this: in the end of the novel, most reviewers see the beloved Atticus character as a bigot.

I said it, but let me explain: in the second half of the novel, Jean Louise learns that her father is part of a Citizens’ Councils meeting in Maycomb, and she witnesses him in a meeting. And after seeing a local politician at the meeting give an atrociously racist speech, she grows horrified and confused when Atticus defends himself for going. On one hand, he explains that he uses it to know his opponents, and even speaks that everyone is entitled to his own opinions, which leads to Jean Louise looking at Atticus as less of a perfect person and more of a human being.

While I do like the idea they were going for, it could’ve been presented in a better light. Atticus is remembered throughout literature because he is the character that was so compassionate, so inspiring, so powerful, that he redefined what makes a character human. And to see him do something like that, even if it could’ve been for good intentions, made him seem a bit off.

The novel has more continuity errors that the publishers should’ve looked at. In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Atticus was able to prove Tom Robinson’s innocence, but the jury still convicted him, and it ended up with Tom being killed trying to escape prison. In ‘Go Set a Watchman’ however, it’s stated that Tom was acquitted and that’s it.

Okay, I’ve vented off all my angry attitudes to the problems of this novel, so what is good about it. Honestly, everything else. ‘Go Set a Watchman’ does a fantastic job at characterizing Scout into an older young woman in the 1950’s. Instead of a tomboyish girl in Depression-era Alabama under Jim Crow, we see a tomboyish woman in post-WWII America in the midst of the sexual revolution and the Civil Rights movement. I really love how we still see the Scout in Jean Louise, but still see her as a more mature person. It’s very new and refreshing to read.

Probably my most favorite sections of the novel involve the flashbacks to her growing up. We watch Scout, Dill, and Jem transform into teenagers, and see them interact with others in school. We see Scout have her first kiss and think she’s pregnant, then accidentally become part of a prank (these situations make me barely breathe due to me laughing so hard XD). These flashbacks are nostalgic and probably the greatest parts of ‘Go Set a Watchman’. If the entire novel were like this, I would not be reviewing this book.

So do I hate the novel? Absolutely not. While the situations the characters go through are contradictory to their personalities, everyone in the entire world has to admit it is wonderful to read the characters we knew and love in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, especially in a different time. While this novel doesn’t have a good plot, I didn’t mind it for the most part. Some would argue otherwise, but to me, I felt like going to a family reunion. While ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is superior in every way to this novel, it wouldn’t hurt the average fan to read this and form their own conclusion. After all, I do like the message this novel was going for: no matter what the issue is, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

Review: ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger

I can’t think of a book that divides people more than ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger. Almost everything about this book is both praised and controversial over the decades since it was published. I’m not going to go that much into the controversy of this book, especially about the bit involving John Lennon’s murder, but I will talk about the split arguments with this. This is a book that readers either love or hate. Some people call the main character a classic icon of teenage rebellion, while others despise him and his personality all together. Some call this novel a perfect look into the teenage mind while others see it as a trashy, preachy waste of paper. Some even call ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ a masterpiece of American literature, and by God, others don’t even want to mention this book exists.

So what did I think of it? Well…

‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is set in the middle of the 20th century, just after the Second World War. We follow a young sixteen year-old boy named Holden Caulfield, who isn’t upset that he’s been kicked out of Pencey Prep academy. He decides to skip staying until Christmas for his wealthy parents to find out, and runs to the nearby New York City. We follow him walking and sleeping around the city…and that’s about it. Yeah the book is basically about Holden being cynical toward everyone he meets.

Probably the biggest problem with ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is that there’s basically little to no plot in this. We follow a teenager with a cynical attitude, he roams New York, tries to find a person to hear about his ‘problems’, and it takes 250 pages for me to want to die of boredom. I wouldn’t mind so much if Holden were made more interesting and were put in more interesting environments. Yeah he does risqué things like paying a prostitute to have a conversation with, and even walking through Manhattan when it is pitch black out, but we never see his personality being affected by it. He walks down a street, calls a random person a ‘phony’ (one of many memorable terms he uses), and monologues about how shitty his life and the world is while reminiscing about his brothers and sister. Good god, I was waiting for something different to happen.

Fans of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ say that this book is the epitome of teenage rebellion and is ahead of its time. However, some readers don’t fully understand what teenage rebellion is. Some see it as a teenager being a douchebag to everyone, but there’s more to it than that. Teenage rebellion is a phase that helps a young man or young woman grow as a person, and helps them create their own identity through breaking the mold they grew up in.

It has been presented well in other novels published recently. Margo from ‘Paper Towns’ by John Green breaks the rules because she’s lived in a suburb house that’s strictly about keeping a façade. Alek from ‘One Man Guy’ by Michael Barakiva breaks the rules because he wants to know who he is outside of being a perfect son in a traditional Armenian family. And in the end, they know their identity.

With Holden Caulfield, he doesn’t even change as a character.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the iconic symbol of teenage rebellion shall we? To be fair, Holden does have a personality that can be likeable to some people. He’s extremely cynical to phonies, but is kind to the people he cares about. He’s smart, but doesn’t apply himself. He loves his little sister, and even makes promises he tends to keep. However, so many reviewers and readers also say that Holden is very whiny, and…yeah I have to agree that he is very annoying to listen to whenever he monologues about all the phonies and everyone he hates.

So what is it that catches people’s eyes with ‘The Catcher in the Rye’? To the novel’s credit, it has a fantastic grip on imagery. Whenever Holden isn’t being cynical, he describes New York City in a way that almost feels like a beautiful music video. I like the scene where he’s in Central Park, and you can feel the atmosphere dripping around him. Even a few characters in this seem like they have interesting pasts, but we don’t see them very long.

So what’s the verdict on ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger? I don’t regret reading it at all, and loved the style that the author gave this unique character, but teenage rebellion isn’t all about complaining for an entire novel-length book. If Holden Caulfield were put in a better story with an actual plot, it would’ve worked. For me it didn’t work, but I like to think of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ as a Rorschach test for classic literature. While I see this novel as a misunderstood look at teenage rebellion, others may see it as a masterpiece, and I don’t have a problem with it, as long as they don’t kill anyone in the name of J.D. Salinger’s most well-known novel.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!