Review

Review: The Batgirl of Burnside (The New 52 #1) by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve always been a big fan of superhero stories, but it was only in the past year or two that I started reading Marvel comic books properly, and now I feel quite well-versed in the various arcs and characters. But, until now, I hadn’t read a single DC comic. I saw this on Netgalley and thought the start of a brand new series would be a good place to start, plus Batgirl was a character I was also vaguely familiar with.

The Batgirl of Burnside follows Batgirl as she struggles with balancing life as a graduate student and her secret identity. Hackers are targeting a popular dating/friend app, which pretty much everyone in the city uses, and to add to this someone is impersonating Batgirl and trying to ruin her reputation.

Barbara Gordon as Batgirl first appeared in 1967, so it is understandable that some of her comics would appear to feel dated. This new series very much brings Batgirl into the present day – smartphones, social media, online dating – but this could also serve to isolate some of Batgirl’s older fans, those who have been following her for a long time. For me, as a new reader and someone used to such technology, it wasn’t an issue, but I could see how it could be for some fans. What I did like was that the technology wasn’t just throw in to appeal to a certain demographic – it was an integral part of the story.

My main issues with this volume were the odd mix of made up and real pop culture, the cliche of a cop/authority figure boyfriend who disapproves of our protagonists secret identity without realising who it really is, and one particular villain who talks in hashtags… That last one seemed a bit too much.

But the art was gorgeous, the colour palettes a wonderful blend, the story fun and fast-paced, and every character looked unique. The action scenes flowed seamlessly from one frame to the next. Taking a brief glance at reviews of this book on Goodreads shows that the previous DC readers don’t seem to be quite so impressed with this addition to the series, but for me, as a new reader of DC comics, this was a great introduction to its universe. One or two characters were familiar from the television series Arrow, but almost everything was new to me, and at no point did I feel at a disadvantage.

A fun, fresh update on the Batgirl story, definitely a great entry point for those wanting to get into DC Comics but unsure where to start.

Review

Review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

When I saw this book on Netgalley, my first thoughts were ‘YESSS a graphic novel about video games!’ and that the cover art was completely gorgeous. The instant I was approved, I sat down and read it in one go.

The story begins with our small-town protagonist, Anda, being introduced to the world of Coarsegold Online. I wasn’t sure about the way it was introduced to her – a woman comes in to Anda’s school and gives a talk on her female only guild on the game. I’m not sure what sort of high school would allow a guest speaker to encourage young people to play MMOs, but hey ho… as implausible as it is, the reader and Anda are quickly introduced to the game, which means they can start the exploration proper.

Like many MMO players, including myself, Anda plays to escape from the real world. She is a shy girl, with little self-confidence and not many friends. The ‘real world’ panels have a much starker colour palette, in comparison to the bright and beautiful colours of the virtual world, which I thought was a nice touch. Definitely an excellent representation of how many gamers feel – I know that I tend to start playing ridiculous amounts of online games when I’m feeling particularly down. Anda is an MMO newbie thrown into the deep end, which gives readers who may not be familiar with MMO mechanics a chance to catch up. However, to experienced MMO players there will be many recognisable scenes. As Anda grows in confidence within the game, this is reflected in real life – and she even dyes her hair to match her character.

I can think of many books set in or around video games, but none of them have the sort of message that In Real Life does. Most of the time, the video game is the story, and real life takes a back seat. However, in this particular book, the video game opens up our eyes to the real world. Anda befriends a young Chinese boy on Coarsegold Online, but he’s not playing for pleasure. He is one of the millions of ‘gold farmers’ who descend upon various online worlds every day, who work twelve hour shifts with no breaks, for a tiny wage.

One of Anda’s guild mates, who sort of takes Anda under her wing, recruits her to help with a ‘quest’. This ‘quest’ (unofficial) involves killing the gold farmer’s characters, in what I can only assume is a PvP of sorts. This is where Anda meets her new friend, when she chases after him. And whilst they only get to chat for a bit at first, she is instantly concerned with how he is being treated. She realises that this is someone doing their job, that he has no choice if he wants to eat. This leads to Anda trying to take action outside of the game – and I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers!

A cute read for fans of MMOs, that also has a deeper message, as well as being very familiar to anyone who has good online friends and hates the stigma that comes with the ‘online friend’ label. The art is beautiful, a cutesy style with some wonderful colour palettes, and the story means well even if it never quite hits the mark. I just want to leave you with this quote, for anyone who scorns at the idea of online friends:

‘”This life is real too. We’re communicating, aren’t we?” — In Real Life, page 188.

Past Features

Turning Off The TV #23: The Avengers/Avengers Assemble

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Welcome to my regular Thursday feature, Turning off the TV! In this feature I recommend books similar to TV shows or films you may have enjoyed, both series and specific episodes.

The film this week is: The Avengers/Avengers Assemble.

Avengers

Nick Fury is director of S.H.I.E.L.D, an international peace keeping agency. The agency is a who’s who of Marvel Super Heroes, with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow. When global security is threatened by Loki and his cohorts, Nick Fury and his team will need all their powers to save the world from disaster. (via IMDB)

The Avengers, also released as Avengers Assemble in the UK, is one of the highest grossing films of all time. But what did you expect when it brings together various beloved superheroes, with their own franchises, as well as a handful of new characters? I absolutely LOVE this film and am pretty much in awe of everything in it: the costumes, the technology, the sets, the special effects, the music and the perfect cast. Like my X-Men version of this feature, I won’t be recommending novels but different Marvel comic books, since there are so many different storylines and line-ups to explore.

The Avengers Volume 2, by Brian Michael Bendis

The Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis

The Avengers Volume 2 by Brian Michael Bendis features some familiar faces to fans of the film: Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Captain America, but also some new like Red Hulk, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic, Professor X and the Sub-mariner. Including the Avengers, the New Avengers and the Secret Avengers, it’s a force not to be messed with! The Infinity Gems, which if in the wrong hands could be used to destroy Earth, are under the protection of various superheroes – but the villainous Hood has eluded them, and is gathering the gems one by one. It’s up to the Avengers to stop him and save the world.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1 by Brian Michael Bendis is one of the few Marvel comics I own, rather than one I’ve borrowed and I LOVE IT SO MUCH. The film came out on 31st July, and hopefully by the time this post is up I will have already watched it. The Guardians are a misfit band of criminals who are trying to do some good. There’s Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill, a half human prince who has defied his father; Gamora, a deadly green-skinned assassin; Drax, a ferocious warrior; Rocket, the result of a genetic experiment, and Groot, Rocket’s bodyguard/friend/transport. If you’re looking for a truly funny series to follow, this is definitely the one. Oh, and this particular story arc is fairly new and only has three volumes so far, plus an X-Men crossover, so it should be easy to catch up. Iron Man also features in this volume!

Ms. Marvel Volume 8: War of the Marvels

Ms Marvel

I’ve read a couple of Ms. Marvel volumes now, but I think Ms. Marvel Volume 8 by Brian Reed is my favourite so far. Karla Sofen (aka Moonstone) has taken over as Ms. Marvel after Carol Danvers’ death, whilst the story also follows a young lady called Catherine who shares many similarities with the aforementioned Carol (original Ms. Marvel). It’s a story of confused identities and split personalities, and whilst it suffers from the unfortunate typical trait of ‘fanservice’ (lots of skintight clothing and panty shots) that come with female superheroes, there are some really fun action sequences.

Are you a fan of The Avengers/Avengers Assemble? Do you have any recommendations to add? Are there any other TV shows or films you’d like me to cover?

Past Features

Turning Off The TV #22: X-Men

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Welcome to my regular Thursday feature, Turning off the TV! In this feature I recommend books similar to TV shows or films you may have enjoyed, both series and specific episodes.

The film this week is: X-Men.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The X-Men film series is set in an alternate universe, where some people are born with superpowers. These people are known as ‘mutants’, and are often misunderstood and frequently mistrusted by ‘normal’ humans. The films follow the students and teachers of Xavier’s Institute for Gifted Youngsters, founded by Charles Xavier aka Professor X, as well as Professor X’s former friend and now adversary, Erik Lensherr, aka Magneto.

This doesn’t cover one particular film, but the series as a whole. And no, of course I didn’t pick the First Class poster just so I could have a certain Irish-German gentleman on my blog… I’m doing something a little different this time, and recommending my favourite X-Men comics, rather than novels people might enjoy if they liked X-Men. It just feels a bit silly when there are hundreds and hundreds of different storylines and arcs involving our favourite mutants. I just want to emphasise that all Marvel comics I have read have been out of order, and I’ve never had any issues following storylines. So if that’s a worry to you when starting any of these, it shouldn’t be!

Ultimate X-Men: Volume 1 by Mark Millar Geoff Johns

Ultimate X-Men, Volume 1

The Ultimate X-Men series is a modernised re-imagining of the X-Men, and Ultimate X-Men: Volume 1 by Mark Millar collects the first year of these comics. The team consists of Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Iceman, with Storm and Colossus as new additions from the original 1960s line-up. There have been several artists and story writers working on the ‘Ultimate X-Men’ series, which ran for eight years, from 2001-2009. I can only comment on this particular volume but I’d definitely recommend it as a good place to start, especially if you want some more modern-looking art.

Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand by Ed Brubaker & Mike Choi

Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand

The Uncanny X-Men storyline is the longest running arc of the X-Men series (since 1963), and Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand by Ed Brubaker and Mike Choi is one of my favourites of the series so far. It features Cyclops and Emma Frost as the leaders of the Xavier Institute. They’re called to San Francisco by Archangel, who has discovered something very strange – part of the city seems to be stuck in the 1960s! I really loved all the 60s fashion and colours of this one, and it was a pretty fun storyline. There is also a small arc with Nightcrawler (*BAMF!*), Wolverine and Colossus travelling through Russia.

X-Men: Worlds Apart by Christopher Yost & Diogenes Neves

X-Men: Worlds Apart

X-Men: Worlds Apart by Christopher Yost and Diogenes Neves is different from the other X-Men books I’ve read, in that it follows Storm, and Storm only. It’s always fun when characters that don’t normally get their own spin-off books get them, because it allows the reader to learn much more about their personality, origin story etc. Wolverine gets plenty of his own stories and I’m getting a bit bored of him to be honest… I’m not so big on the art style in this one, but I liked the story. Storm is Queen of Wakanda and married to the Black Panther, and sets out to investigate a mysterious murder. It was great to finally meet the Black Panther, who I’d only ever heard about!

Are you a fan of X-Men? Do you have any recommendations to add? Are there any other TV shows or films you’d like me to cover?

Review

Review: Dragon Age Library Edition (Volume 1) by David Gaider

Just like when I spot a Mass Effect book on Netgalley, I can’t help myself if I see anything related to Dragon Age either! This book is actually a collection of the three current graphic novels, with extra notes and annotation. I’m going to split my review and discuss each chapter separately – but firstly I have to say how much I LOVE the cover. It’s so wonderful seeing those familiar characters in a different style of media, particularly as when I imagine them in my head, all I can see is their pixelated selves. And not only that, but I would happily frame and display the full page art in between chapters on my wall, it’s so gorgeous.

The Silent Grove

Firstly, THIS BOOK CONFIRMS KING ALISTAIR AS CANON. YES. GET OUT, ALORA. That’s the only way it should go. Narrated by King Alistair of Ferelden, a character who should be familiar to anyone who has played Dragon Age: Origins, the story follows our bumbling former Grey Warden as he investigates a rumour. Except he’s not so bumbling any more. He’s quite a different character from the one in the game, but I interpreted that as having to adapt once he became king – and losing his lover. He mentions something about how he shouldn’t ‘be here alone’, which was a nice little nod to all who chose the route of marrying Alistair, and then frustratingly found out in the epilogue that their character ‘disappeared’ months later… There is one event in particular that truly confirms how much Alistair has changed. He’s still a gentleman, shown by a moment where he gives Isabela his cloak to keep her warm, but he is now rough and rugged, and has lost his baby faced looks.

But Alistair is not the only character in The Silent Grove! He is accompanied by Varric Tethras, a party member from Dragon Age II, and Isabela, who makes an appearance in both games. The dynamic between the three was pretty great, particularly Varric and Isabela’s friendship. There was one scene where the two dismantle traps together that clearly shows how easily their friendship comes to them, despite appearances. There are also references to other Dragon Age characters, for example Alistair noting how he is unable to buy a Qunari off with cookies – a direct nod to Sten.

Those Who Speak

Those Who Speak is the turn of Isabela, who narrates the events of this particular book, which immediately captures her character. She’s a tough lady with a hidden weakness, who doesn’t find it particularly easy to make friends. She’s comfortable with her sexuality, and also comfortable flaunting it. She even likes to tease, making regular digs at Alistair’s weight (I guess he did get beefier…), which shows she is at ease with him. However, she also has a dark side that she keeps hidden from sight.

This chapter involved a ball, which was a chance to show off some formal outfits – and truly wonderful they are too. Isabela’s in particular was a fantastic design, and I just cannot emphasise how much I absolutely LOVED the artwork of this entire book. It was consistently beautiful and detailed, even in action sequences and very brief shots.

It was actually particularly interesting to read about Isabela for me, as she’s never been a character I really connected with. I turned down her ‘offer’ in the first game, and actually killed her in the second after she betrayed me… so now I feel I know her a little better, and should perhaps give her another chance during my second playthrough of Dragon Age II.

Until We Sleep

Unfortunately, my galley copy actually stopped halfway through this chapter. I did get in touch with Netgalley, who contacted the publisher for me, but they never heard anything back which is a shame. So the rest of my review is based on what I could read – I do plan on buying this book one day, so I’ll finish the story off some time! Until We Sleep was narrated by Varric Tethras, another one of my favourite characters. This story revealed a transgender character, and the situation was dealt with well – no-one batted an eyelid at Mae’s decision or lifestyle, and neither should we.

If you know Varric, you know Bianca, his beloved crossbow. This story reveals the origins of Bianca, a sad tale that I’d like to read more about – even if it makes me sob! It was nice to see the back story of someone who might be considered a less major character (although Varric will be making a reappearance in Dragon Age Inquisition, yay!). Unfortunately, it didn’t feel as well ‘held together’ as the other two, and I don’t think that had anything to do with the fact that I only read half of it. That doesn’t mean it was in anyway bad though!

Overall

This is a series that is not afraid of showing its protagonists doing bad things or making bad choices – and for that, they seem all the more real. In true Dragon Age style, it features characters that you can’t help but feel attached to, and this time we get to learn even more about them. It tips its hat to the series in every way, making frequent references back to various parts of the games (“No-one flirts as badly as Alistair!”). The extra annotation and notes in this edition add a lot of depth to the creation of the series, and I can truly say it is an absolute treat for Dragon Age fans – highly recommended. Now roll on Dragon Age Inquisition!

Review

Review: Mass Effect Foundation (Volume 2) by Mac Walters

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

You know the drill by now. I saw a Mass Effect book on Netgalley, so I requested it. I am an unashamed fangirl of the series, and will read everything and anything I can get my hands on, despite not being overly impressed with the books so far. However, I enjoyed the first volume of the Foundation series more than previous series, so was looking forward to reading the next volume.

This particular chapter of the Mass Effect story is set between the events of the Mass Effect 2 prologue and the main story, when Commander Shepard is presumed dead after the attack on the Normandy. It brings in plenty of familiar characters: Miranda, Jacob, Thane, Jack, Kai Leng and the Illusive Man. The reader learns how Jacob came to be a part of Cerberus, and how Shepard’s body was found. It also introduces a couple of new characters, but to be honest I was more interested in learning more about my beloved squad mates from the games – and it didn’t disappoint.

I’ve always seen Jacob as a truly nice guy, although he’s never been a favourite character of mine he was always someone I felt my Shepard could rely on, someone who was utterly loyal. In Mass Effect Foundation he is shown as the soldier out to protect civilians and friends, at any cost – fitting my view of him. And as ever, Miranda is loyal to the job, despite the consequences. Oh, and it’s not just cameras that linger on a view of her rather full derriere, apparently…

With some truly gorgeous full pages of art, this is definitely a lovely collector’s item for Mass Effect fans – particularly one of Jack and Jacob fighting a group of Batarians. The colour scheme is also definitely very fitting, including subtle shades of greys, oranges and reds, with the added neon colours of the various bars and establishments of the Citadel, Omega and Illium.

However, some of the panels just felt really lazy, as if they were almost just the original sketchy ideas, rather than the finalised drawing. One section of the story featured a lot of ‘faceless’ panels – I could understand this if the characters were far off in the distance, but this was even when they were the main focus of a panel. In one chapter, the features of Jacob’s and Miranda’s faces varied wildly, and in Jack’s chapter some of the art was just so unpolished to the extent of looking unfinished.

I have to say though, my absolute favourite part of this new addition to the Mass Effect universe was the bonus story at the end. It’s a 40’s style crime noir, featuring a brave Hanar (yes, you read that correctly) and his attractive Asari companion. It’s everything you could ever want in such a story: a Hanar solving crimes, mowing down hordes of Krogans effortlessly with eight pistols at once, and of course our hero gets the girl. Plus this quote:

‘”This one thinks the Krogan scum must ask the question – does it feel fortunate? Do you, scum?”

Overall, an interesting addition to the Mass Effect universe, but sadly let down by some of the artwork. However, it’s work it just for the bonus short story at the end.

Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: April 2014

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Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

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Last month I read a total of twenty books, which sounds like a lot but many of them were graphic novels: After Dead (Sookie Stackhouse #13.5) by Charlaine Harris, Mass Effect Foundation: Volume 2 by Mac Walters, Red Country by Joe Abercrombie, Glow (Sky Chasers #1) by Amy Kathleen Ryan, Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms #1) by Morgan Rhodes, Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2) by Laini Taylor, X-Men Forever 2, Back in Action (X-Men Forever 2 #1) by Chris Claremont, Marvel Masterworks: The X-Men Volume 2 by Stan Lee, This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, Civil War: Marvel Universe by Ed Brubaker, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, Behemoth (Leviathan #2) by Scott Westerfeld, Goliath (Leviathan #3) by Scott Westerfeld, Wolverine Noir by Stuart Moore, Wolverine First Class: Ninjas, Gods and Divas by Peter David, Wolverine First Class: Wolverine-By-Night by Fred Van Lente, X-Men Legacy: Emplate by Mike Carey, The Avengers: Volume 2 by Brian Michael Bendis, X-Men: Worlds Apart by Christopher Yost, The Kill Order (Maze Runner #0.5) by James Dashner.

I was so happy to finally finish the Leviathan series, and it’s now one of my favourite Young Adult series out there. I read some other great books this month: Days of Blood and Starlight was just as gripping as Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Falling Kingdoms was a wonderful fantasy read. I also went crazy on the graphic novel front, ordering as many Marvel comics as I could through my county library service. And there are still plenty more to read! I also read most of Dragon Age Library Edition: Volume One, but unfortunately my ARC stopped about three quarters of the way through. I did email Netgalley, who contacted the publisher but sadly I haven’t heard anything and the title has now been archived. I will just rate and review it based on what I did managed to read.

 

Challenge progress:

  • I read five books towards the Avengers vs. X-Men Challenge, so unfortunately I didn’t do as well as last month, and I also didn’t quite manage to defeat April’s villain, Kingpin. Better luck next month! May’s villain is Bullseye, and he looks to be quite a challenge.
  • I’ve already beaten my goal of fifty books for this year on Goodreads. I’ve raised the goal to seventy-five, which I think will still be manageable – I may even reach that before August, and I can raise it again!

 

Currently reading:

>The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black The Quick by Lauren Owen

Off the blog:

The majority of April was fairly quiet, but this past week has been pretty busy. I’ve been off work since last Tuesday, although I’m back today. On Wednesday night I went to the Glamour Book Club to see Laini Taylor and Lauren Owen, and I also met up with some fellow book bloggers! I will cover the event in detail in a future post. My friend joined me in London, and she stayed until Tuesday. On Thursday night, we went to see Jace Everett in Bristol. It was a TINY event, with about one hundred people – but the venue put out chairs, so no-one was dancing and I felt like we gave off a bad impression. But despite that, I loved the music and got to meet the man himself afterwards, and get a CD signed. Then on Friday we went to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 which I really enjoyed, Saturday was Free Comic Book Day which meant a trip to Forbidden Planet in Bristol, as well as Bristol Zoo because it was a lovely, sunny day. Oh, and a few weeks ago my Dragon Age: The World of Thedas book arrived, which my fellow Queen of Ferelden, Paola, convinced me to buy. I was just a *little* bit excited by its arrival, as you can see…

Some highlights from April 2014.
Some highlights from April 2014.

 

How was April for you?