Ms. Marvel Volumes 1-4 – A Review

On Tuesday, I finished reading Ms. Marvel Vol. 4. Instead of reviewing that single volume here without having posted reviews of the proceeding volumes, I decided to post all the reviews here in one blog post. I tend to write short reviews of graphic novels making this a great way to review them in a blog post. This graphic novel series is incredibly important to the genre of super hero comics since it features a Muslim teenager as the inhuman super hero. This series accurately depicts her culture in various scenes and makes no apologies for her character’s decision to respect that culture. In addition, it strives to be feminist, diverse, tolerant, and modern. Even as someone who doesn’t read the super hero comic genre, I can see how vitally important this series is to that genre and I think it is worth the time to review the volumes I’ve read here.

Ms Marvel Vol 1Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson is rated 5 stars because it is incredibly well done and shows a perspective and culture rarely depicted in literature. Volume 1 collects single issues #1-5.

I don’t read superhero comics. I barely read graphic novels of any kind. I rarely give 5 star ratings. Yet, I just gave a 5 star rating to a superhero comic. That in and of itself speaks volumes and I’m not sure how much I can add to it, but I will try.

This volume contains the individual issues around Ms. Marvel’s backstory. Kalama’s struggle to understand who she is before she becomes a superhero is an interesting enough storyline on its own; adding the element of her also becoming a superhero gives it even more dimension. It is a fully flushed out aspect of her character and it gives her substantial depth – deeper than some novels are able to achieve.

Also, I LOVED the illustrations. The background images are incredible. Like the sticker on the fire extinguisher which reads “Die Fire Die.” I want tons of those in every issue! They are fantastic and made me laugh over and over again!

As someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy violence, even when PG-level depicted, I was happy to find little of it in this volume. One of the only other superhero graphic novels I’ve read, Strong Female Protagonist, had more violence in it than strictly made me happy, so I was thrilled that this one kept violence to a minimum.

I highly recommend this series to anyone who has yet to pick it up; not just because it is a great leap forward in terms of representation, but because it says incredibly important things (see vol. 2 in particular). This is the future of socially revelant media and I’m so glad it is becoming more of the norm.

Ms Marvel Vol 2Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson is rated 5 stars because the social commentary is incredible! Volume 2 collects issues #6-11

While I LOVED Ms. Marvel vol. 1, I didn’t expect to continue to like the series. I have found that I have a hard time sticking with series in any format, mostly because they always disappoint me at some point. It’s hard to keep hitting the high mark and eventually when it consistently falls short, I lose interest. So far, Ms. Marvel is no where hitting below the high mark; in fact, this volume might have raised it a bit. The social commentary in this volume is incredible. I won’t say more, but you should definitely check it out.

There was a guest illustrator for the first two issues in this volume and that was disappointing, particularly because I was not a fan of the new illustrator’s style. Importantly, the subtlies of the background that I love disappeared and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stick with a series that lost that much depth. But, it went back to the same high caliber of illustrations. So, if like me, you are a bit hesitant after the first issue in this volume, just give it a minute.

This is a phenomenal series and I definitely recommend people give it a read.

Ms Marvel Vol 3 Ms. Marvel Vol. 3: Crushed by G. Willow Wilson is rated 3.5 stars because it moved much more towards the super hero good guy versus bad guy trope and that’s not my thind. Volume 3 collects issues #12-15.

There are some great moments in this volume, like when Bruno gets all annoyed by the term “friendzone” and articulates well how there’s no such thing. And it’s still refreshing to see a non-white American culture accurately portrayed. But, unfortunately, this comic is headed down the road that is expected of it – to become a regular good guy vs. bad guy fight it out comic. That sort of thing does not hold my interest. But I will stick with it through another volume. It’s still an incredibly well done comic series; it just isn’t my kind of series.

Ms Marvel Vol 4Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson is rated 2.5 stars because I was particularly disappointed with this volume, which had som much potential to do great things, but ended up instead moving away from its feminist roots. Volume 4 collects issues #16-19.

I was disappointed with this volume for several reasons. I’m not a fan of cliffhangers or vague story lines. The sheer number of cross-overs is getting annoying, especially since I’m not a typical comic book fan and have little knowledge of these characters. With these cross-overs, Kamala goes back to being a fan girl with little agency, which I find incredibly annoying. But the thing I was the most disappointed with was the conversation Kamala and Bruno had as they were looking at the end of the world. I simply need Kamala to have more agency and more tenacity than she does. Honestly, that conversation feeds into sexism and I came to the series to see that removed from the typical comic book genre. I’m honestly not sure I will be picking up the next volume. If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought about it so I can decide whether to read it.

Note: The reviews for volumes 1 through 4 originally posted on Goodreads.

Another Note: for some reason, when I linked to my Goodreads review of Strong Female Protagonist, that review was posted on this blog post inadvertently. I have since fixed that issue, but it may still show on some social media posts. I apologize for that oversight.

What have you thought of this series so far?

 

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WWW Wednesday – A Meme

WWW Wednesdays.jpgWelcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and is now hosted by Sam on Taking on a World of Words. For this meme, you just answer the three Ws:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Please share your answers in the comments below or link your blog post!

What are you currently reading?

The WoodcutterThe book I am the most actively reading right now is The Woodcutter by Kate Danley. I have wanted to read this book for quite awhile, but never quite got around to reading it. I’m glad I finally did! So far, it’s really intriguing and I definitely want to know what happens next, but it is a different style of writing and hasn’t pulled me in as much as I had hoped. But I still expect it to be a good read! Have you read it? What did you think? Did it live up to the hype and its awards?

I am also tackling a few other books at the moment – too many really. You can always see what I’m currently reading on the sidebar Goodreads widget or on Goodreads. If you pop over on Goodreads, definitely friend me! I love following other book lovers!

What did you recently finish reading?

The Color PurpleI finished The Color Purple on Sunday. I read it for a book club my friends and I have been doing for 11 years! I was part of the initial membership, but then moved away a few times, and came back a few times, but now I’m here to stay in the book club. It’s absolutely wonderful. Are you part of a book club?

We read The Color Purple because we decided to tackle some of the books on PBS’s Great American Reads list. This was a book several of us owned and hadn’t yet read, so we picked this one. I greatly enjoyed this book and am so glad we picked it. I suspect I watched part of the movie at some point because I was aware of the plot up until the book switches point of view. Or maybe that part wasn’t in the movie? I’m not sure since it was so long ago I watched it. Have you wated the movie or read the book?

What do you think you’ll read next?

We Are WaterThis is a hard question to answer for me as I tend to be a mood reader. In addition, there are so many books on my TBR shortlist, it’s a bit of a guessing game to figure out what I will tackle next. But I decided to go with the safe bet for now. A friend and I have been doing buddy reads about every other month and she suggested we start reading the next one soon, which is We Are Water by Wally Lamb. I am really looking forward to reading it as I love Wally Lamb. Plus, I own it and I’ve had a goal this year of 25% to 50% of the books I read to be ones I already own. It’s a bit ambitious, but it’s also ben satisfying! I’ll probably start We Are Water as soon as I finish The Woodcutter. But I might pick up an ARC or a book from the library on my TBR. Who knows!

What are your answers to the three Ws? Please comment below or link to your blog post!

Station Eleven – A Critique

Station Eleven Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is rated 4 out of 5 stars because I enjoyed it so much while I was reading it, but now it is less clear whether this book deserves 4 stars

NOTE: This critique contains spoilers, listed between the two spoiler brackets ([spoiler] to [/spoiler]. The rest is a spoiler free review.

This book really drew me in and I had a hard time putting it down. I was constantly thinking about it. I even watched American Experience: 1918 Flu Pandemic to better understand how such a situation could arise. I needed to know what happened and why. I needed to learn their stories. I just could not stop reading it.

Some of the books appeal is how well done symbolism and themes are throughout the book. [SPOILER ALERT] One such theme is the end of one story is the beginning of another. This comes up several times, sometimes after a character dies, but also in other ways. The theme is weaved throughout the story in such a way that it is not immediately apparent until one sits and contemplates it critically. Then one starts noticing all the other things that weave throughout the story. There are several objects that move with various characters, seemingly weaving together their stories, yet not exactly doing much of anything. But they are important because another theme of the book is what takes with them from the past interwoven with the theme of what one would miss the most. How these themes are intertwined and how they use symbolism to convey them is fantastic. A reader can read the whole book and not notice them, but they are impactful nonetheless. I did not expect to see this many literary tools in a contemporary work of science fiction, yet somehow, it works incredibly well.

A theme that was incredibly powerful for me was how different people respond to the same thing and how they understand and interpret its significance differently. It is hard to discuss this particular theme without spoiling the book for those who have yet to read it, but suffice it to say that there are two characters who start with similar things and end up on very different paths.

There are obvious themes that I suspect nearly all readers will find in Station Eleven. These are survival is not sufficient and the vitalness of art. Both of these themes are made strongly prevelant and come up often in the book, but in several different ways. For example, a character struggles with discovering that survival is not enough before the collapse of society. Characters value and thrive because of art before and after the collapse. These are likely the takeaways St. John Mandel wants her readers to feel and reflect on. They are powerful and in the book club I attended, they certainly were a significant part of the discussion.

Interestingly, another part of the discussion was how accessible the writing was for readers. This timeline jumps forward and back, not just around the collapse of society, but also within each. For example, at one point, the book may focus on the current period which happened right before the collapse and then jump back a decade to look at a character’s past. Or the reader might be 10 years in the future after the collapse, back to the beginning of the collapse, and then back 10 years before the collapse. It is a very contemporary writing style, not simply because of the disjointed time, but also because of the way St. John Mandel writes. There were several people in book club, of the baby boomer generation, who struggled greatly with this writing style and ended up strongly disliking the book because of it. They struggled to keep the characters and timelines straight and thus did not takeaway from the book the major or minor themes which are so critical to its success. What fascinated me about this discussion is that I found the writing style to work incredibly well for this book. To me, it said something about the fragmentation of collective memory and it showed how interconnected current events are to our past. [/SPOILER ALERT] I’m not sure I would have liked this writing style in another book, but for this one, it very much worked.

This book is successful at saying much more than what is immediately apparent on the page and I can understand why it was nominated for awards. Even if readers do not consciously understand the themes, they are working on the reader in such a way that the book is incredibly engaging and memorable. But, objectively, I don’t think this was particularly a 4 star book. There were some significant aspects left unexplained and some significant pieces were incredibly improbable. Not all the storylines resolved and there wasn’t a main story. Really the draw of the story is to understand what happened. I expected this to be a strongly character-driven story and it wasn’t exactly. There are small references to how they themselves changed, but there isn’t enough character development to see full shifts. In fact, several of the characters do not seem to change at all. This was disappointing.

This is by far the most critical 4 star review I’ve written. I’m not sure if a 4 star rating makes sense, but while I was reading it, I was greatly enjoying it and now that I’ve thought more about it, I realize it is because of how the book uses themes and symbolism to tell a story, though I’m not sure that makes it a 4 star book. But there is something to be said for a book I devour, so it’s a 4 star rated book with a fairly critical review. If the blurb interests you, I’d recommend you’d give it a go!

A note: the review part of this critique originally posted on Goodreads in early June 2018; however, the literary critique is entirely new material and only posted on this blog.

Sparrow Migrations – A Review

Sparrow MigrationsSparrow Migrations by Cari Noga is rated 2.5 stars, rounded up because there was decent character development and I was engaged, but the story wasn’t particularly memorable or interesting

When I read the summary for this book, I thought it was going to be a sad book and thus it spent a long time on my Kindle shelf. But this year, I’ve committed to tackle Mount TBR and have a quarter to half of the books I read be ones I already own. Plus, I enjoy listening to easy reads when I’m doing things around the house, so this one ended up being a book I finally got to. Thankfully it wasn’t an emotional story. Yes, it starts with the Miracle on the Hudson landing, but it quickly moves beyond that to look at the lives of three families who were impacted by this event. In addition, only one of those families was on the plane; the other two were on ferries which aided in the rescue. This is not a book about tragedy but rather a book about finding oneself.

The stories of each family vary quite a bit from each other, which makes their stories more interesting. It does make it a bit easier to keep their stories straight; however, in the beginning while the reader is still learning their stories, it is really difficult to keep track of all the characters. This is because the story does not follow the point of view of one character from each family, but rather nearly all family members. This constant change in perspective is frustrating and it only minimally adds to the story. There’s even a time when the point of view is from a minor character who is not one of the family members. It is simply too many perspectives, especially since all essentially told in the same voice. While I understand why the author did this, it simply did not add the depth to the story to the extent she thought it did. There were moments when these other perspectives were helpful in understanding the characters and their development; however, it would have been better to limit this to a few brief moments when the point of view was from the non-main family character. For example, Robby was the main character of his family and I would have greatly preferred to have his family’s story told from his point of view entirely, but it was useful to see his dad’s perspective at one particular point in the novel. Yet, it was less useful to see his point of view nearly as often as Robbie’s. This constant switching is particularly challenging in the beginning and I suspect some readers will bail early in the book simply because of this issue.

The best thing about this book was its character development, though it could have been better had the story stuck to one perspective per family. Mostly, the characters are developed enough that they feel like real people facing real challenges and this made it easy to finish the book. Unfortunately, the characters do not grow as much as one would expect in a book about how an event impacts one’s life. For example, Deborah does not really grow much as a person. There are some changes, but mostly those are external events that naturally cause a person’s life to change, not necessarily the person. Maybe Deborah did change internally because of these external events, but the reader doesn’t read about those internal conflicts. Again, this is because there are simply too many perspectives in this book. Unless this book was going to be 100 or 200 more pages, it’s simply not possible to develop this many characters and then have the reader inside each one of their heads to truly understand and see the full complexity of how external events are impact them. There is one family where their story is told nearly entirely through the perspective of the mom and she has the most growth of all the characters. This supports my conclusion that there were simply too many perspectives.

I was a bit disappointed that the storylines overlapped, but that was too be expected. It was a bit much that nearly each day covered in the novel was covered from the perspective of multiple families. I understand that it might have been easier to write this way, but I would have preferred to see each families timelines to progress in their own chapters instead of side by side in the same chapter about one particular day. It took me awhile to get used to this style and because of the sheer number of perspectives, it made it even harder to follow the book early on. I can see a decent number of readers bailing because it is just so much to keep track of.

There are two characters whose story did not always feel realistic: Robby and Brett. Robby is autistic and while there are moments when it appears to be an accurate depiction of an autistic person, there were moments when it was less clear. As someone who is neurotypical, I have no basis for determining whether this was an accurate portrayal, so do take my concern with a grain of salt. There were just a few times when it felt more like a neurotypical person writing about her perceived perspectives of a neurodivergent person than truly from the perspective of a neurodivergent person. This is also true with Brett. As she comes to terms with her sexuality, there are moments where her perspective feels more like it is the perspective of a person who has not seriously struggled with her sexual identity than an accurate portrayal. As a woman who has spent much of her life reflecting on and trying to understand her sexuality, her portrayal did feel inauthentic at points; however, I respect that my experience is not the only experience and there may be more truth to this portrayal than I felt there was. But ultimately, it did not feel like there was enough internal conflict to drive her changes.

This book was better than I expected, but was not as good as it could have been because of all the various points of view. If you are interested in reading this book, know that the beginning with be a bit slow going simply because of the number of perspectives. For readers who have difficulties tracking many viewpoints or simply do not like reading many viewpoints, this book is not for you. This book is best for readers who like developed characters and find many viewpoints interesting, even if it means a bit less depth for each character.

The Week – A Conclusion

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Book Table|Matteo Tarenghi|CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Well, it feels a bit odd to be closing out a week when there’s been only one post, but since I’m doing a quiet, soft re-launch of my blog, this is a good way to start catching readers up.

What I Read

This week, I finished Sparrow Migrations, The Repeat Year, and Starry River of the Sky. This week was a bit of a mixed bag as I really enjoyed Starry River of the Sky but was meh about the other two reads. The review for The Repeat Year posted yesterday and the review for Sparrow Migrations will post on Monday. I hope to post a review for Starry River of the Sky soon! I went out of town this week and actually skipped a night of reading, but I was still able to get in a good amount of reading time overall. I’m happy with my reading week!

What I am Reading

I currently have a complicated system of books I read all at the same time. It goes as follows:
Children’s audiobook CD for the car: Peter Pan
Easy fiction or nonfiction audiobook for working around the house: For the Love of a Dog
Classic book reading daily on Serial Reader app: Carmilla
Friend book club book: The Color Purple
Bed time book: The Woodcutter
Day time book: Bad Romance
Great Courses book reading through Hoopla: Philosophy of Mind
Great Courses book reading through the library: Understanding the Fundamentals of Music
Plus a few nonfiction books I am taking forever to get through (see side bar for a complete list)

I started The Color Purple, Peter Pan, Carmilla, and For the Love of a Dog this week.

I think I might have a problem. This week, I added a day time book in addition to my night time book as well as deciding to only read my book club book during the day. I may have over done it. But the book club book needs to be read by Sunday, so it should be off that list very soon and I can get back to a mostly normal number of books I’m simutaneously reading. Which is still a ridiculuous amount.

I started listening to children’s audiobook CDs in the car after I lost Nica in February. I found myself uncontrollably sobbing while driving and decided that had to change. I wasn’t much of a fan of listening to audiobooks while driving because there are distractions from time to time (i.e. trying to not hit things) that prevent me from hearing everything that is said. But I found with children’s books, it’s usually easy enough to fill in the blanks so that I still feel I fully read and understood the story.

In early January, I adopted a puppy. I started reading a bunch of dog training books, watching training DVDs, and attending training classes. And then, I burned myself out on them. Thus, there are a few dog books on my currently reading list that have been lingering there for a bit. There are a few books that are just hanging out on my coffee table. I am determined to get through them, but it’s anyone’s guess whether I will.

At some point, I moved on my from dog training nonfiction craze to intergrative medicine nonfiction craze and thus there are a few audiobooks lingering from that on my currently reading and a few more on my coffee table. I’ve decided to return all the ones I haven’t started to the library, but I am committing to trying hard to finish the ones I started. My biggest problem with those is sitting down to do the practices (I’ve listened to all the rest of the audiobook), but skipping that part kind of skips the whole point of the book, so I just need to find the time.

Well, that was a lot of explanation on why my currently reading list got so long! I’ll save for next week a discussion of why a day time book, the Serial Reader app, and the Hoopla app were added to the list.

What I’m Reading Next

My children’s audiobook for the car is nearly always planned out, so I can say rather confidently that sometime next week I will start When the Sea Turned to Silver. Outside that, I’m not sure. I have a Netgalley back log that I plan on getting to as soon as the Woodcutter is finished. I still need to sit down and plan out when I’m reading what based on release dates. But my next novel will very likely be an ARC.

I also plan on reading another volume of Ms. Marvel this week before it is due back at the library. Outside of that, I am trying very hard to get through all the books on my current reading that have been sitting there awhile because it is out of control!

Well, there’s so much more I could talk about, but that’s enough for now. As I write more of these, it will become clearer what has been going on for the last couple of months and I’ll reconnect with all of you! Glad to be back!

The Repeat Year – A Review

Repeat YearThe Repeat Year by Andrea Lochen is rated 2.5 stars, rounded up because the book kept me reading and I wasn’t particularly annoyed with it until the end.

This book isn’t something I would have picked up if it wasn’t for my library’s summer book club and wasn’t written by a local author in a local setting. This book is much more romance heavy than I would have preferred. The concept of the book is interesting: a woman wakes up on New Year’s Day in the previous year. She gets a repeat year to change things. There are so many directions this book could have went, yet it went for the romance path. The premise that her repeat year was entirely so she could fix her relationship with her “soul mate” was my first big problem with the book. There was so much potential in the book: she could have helped her friends or family more, she could have done more for patients in the ICU where she was a nurse, or she could have reflected more on who she was as a person and who she wanted to be. She could have done those things and tried to repair her relationship, but besides minor instances, she seemed to only care about her relationship. This is propagates the stereotype that women are nothing without a man and it was frustrating.

My second problem with the book was that there was no depth to it. The characters are barely developed. I didn’t feel I understood any of their inner workings. The scenes were sparse and much of the story is just told instead of shown. It’s a very basic writing style that makes it hard to get into the book. There’s no really connection to the characters or the things they go through. It’s written like a series of accounts instead of like a novel where we see things behind the scenes. This is a writing style I do not find engaging, though I acknowledge there are people who don’t agree with me.

The third problem I had with the book centers around her friendship with Kerrigan. I can’t get into the specifics without spoilers, but suffice it to say that the relationship felt fake. While we are constantly told they are the bestest friends ever, at no point do they act like they are. There seems to be nothing between them except a moment early in college when they connected so they wouldn’t be lonely. I wouldn’t have minded that too much, except then the relationship has to overcome some things and none of it makes much sense, even in the context of the relationship as described.

In some ways, it felt like this book tried to do too much and thus did none of it well. There were too many random storylines that didn’t seem to add much to the story. But if you are someone who really likes a plot driven story that’s an easy read, you might enjoy this book. There is enough going on to keep one engaged and it was a rather quick read. This book wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have potential for other readers, particularly those who enjoy contemporary women’s fiction.