World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

by Max Brooks

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Cover, linked to Wikipedia

Those who know me know I am not a fan of zombie stories. I don’t like the idea of the undead going around and eating people’s brains. It’s disgusting. So why did I decide to read World War Z? It turns out that I ended up seeing the movie World War Z a few years ago with some friends when it came out in theaters. I found the story much more compelling than I had anticipated. I liked the element of a virus infecting people to be similar to rabid dogs rather than some supernatural necromancer calling upon his servants to feed. Since then I had been intending on reading the book. I finally got around to listening to the audiobook. I am so glad I experienced it in this format!

The novel is written in the form of an oral history. The narrator is an employee of the United Nations Postwar Commission to the “Zombie” war. The narrator interviews specific people from all around the world about their involvement or some life event that happened during the war, especially during the “Great Panic,” which was when countries and people actually began to recognize the epidemic for what it was. I appreciated that there was a healthy denial phase, despite that being detrimental to the world’s well-being. It felt more real to life. People do not want to accept something as insane as a zombie outbreak until they see it with their own eyes, but then it may be too late.

The first interview starts with the doctor of “patient zero.” The boy had been on a treasure hunt with his father when he was attacked and bitten by something in the water where they were diving for treasure. The father never returned home with the boy. Although he is classified as “patient zero,” that history is left ambiguous by the fact the health organizations immediately worked to quench the danger before it spread. The way they acted efficiently with military personnel made me believe that there had been other situations similar to this, but rest of the narrative did not address it and moved under the assumption the boy was “patient zero.”

I appreciated that the audiobook was published with a full cast of characters, one for each person the narrator interviewed. As he was interviewing people from all over the world the accents matched their country and it seemed as if the narrator was genuinely flying around the world to get these interviews. While there were times I did not always clearly understand the speaker, as I was listening to this book on a long car ride recently, it did not matter. The authenticity and the over-arching story allowed me to understand everything I needed to know. My only disappointment is after researching to write this blog post, I realize that I listened to the abridged version published in 2007. It seems the author, Max Brooks, was instrumental in getting this audiobook published and the reason it had such a large cast of voice over actors. I would still be interested in listening or reading the whole book one day.

I highly recommend this story as it addresses the idea of humanity and the need for survival in a very real way. I love how the people discuss their lives. There was even one interviewee who could be considered an unreliable narrator, as she was diagnosed with psychiatric problems shortly after her rescue from a plane crash. I would like to believe her, as her story is much more romantic and exciting, but you just never know. The humans did what they could to survive and the world had to learn to work together in ways they had never considered before. It is amazing how tragedy can bring people together.

As a side note: This is my “Book that was turned into a film” novel for the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge. I probably will not complete all the categories on the list as defined in January. However, if you count my comics and other fun novels I read, I should surpass 26 books this year. That makes me happy at least!

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The Unbelievable Gwenpool

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Cover (2016)

I have been hearing about this series called Gwenpool for a while now. My fiancé said he loved it, but I just never got around to picking it up. Finally, I got my hands on the first trade paperback. I am not disappointed.

The series kicks off with Black Cat getting angry with Howard the Duck over something that was stolen from her. Then insanity ensues with Gwen Poole (Gwenpool) and Howard the Duck taking on Hydra agents. I’m not going to explain further because it’s hilarious. After the #0 issue, there is a Christmas Special, and then the story really kicks off with The Unbelievable Gwenpool with issue #1.

Gwen Poole is a girl like us. A girl who loves to read comics. Until one day she wakes up in the world of comics that she has read about. While she is mostly a normal person attempting to act like a superhero, she claims her main superpower is knowing everyone’s secret identities and therefore their weaknesses. She talks to the audience on a regular basis, keeping in line with Deadpool’s knack for breaking the fourth wall. This parody comic is crazier than Squirrel Girl, but just as clever and has a similar vibe. I do enjoy the fact that she does not seem to think there will be any consequences for her actions, even killing, because characters will just “disappear” for a few issues then return. This leads to a lack of responsibility and concern for herself or others. However, Gwen does mourn when MODOK kills her new sidekick, Cecil, and for the first time realizes she may not be the hero of her own story, but rather a henchman. In turn, this leads to further, darker, plot development.

The art by the Japanese art team, Gurihiru, is amazing. It is light, colorful, and adorable. They are able to capture the lightheartedness of the story and Gwen herself. I also love the full pink eyes of her costume, not to mention the pink on the rest of the outfit. I am a sucker for that shade of pink. However, issue #0 is illustrated by Danilo Beyruth. While he is a good artist, I have no complaints about ability, he simply did not capture that playful personality of Gwen Poole. She seemed much older and darker than Gurihiru’s version. Chris Hastings, the author, does an excellent job of subtly adding dark undertones, as is common with “pool” (read: Deadpool) characters, yet also maintaining a light and fun story of a girl trying to discover herself in this new universe.

Trade paperback #1 was great. Now I need to search for the second volume!

 

Toyetica

Cover of Toyetica

Cover of Issue 1

Hi everyone! Sorry for the summer break. This summer I’ve been diligently working on wedding planning with my fiancé. Anyway, I read this new comic that came out at my local comic shop this week (August 9, 2017) that I just had to share! I hope you enjoy.

Toyetica

In this brand new comic book, written and drawn by Bizenghast author, Marty Legrow (M. Alice Legrow), comes a story of Bittles. Bittles are tiny people who have existed among humans since the dawn of time. Humans captured Bittles and kept them as their toys or servants. Over time, the humans began to realize the error of their ways and Bittles were replaced by stuffed dolls. In an attempt to make amends, the humans and Bittles worked together to live harmoniously. From then on, every toy doll or action figure needed to be based on the image of an actual Bittle. Bittles can now attend a school to become famous models for new toys. They learn how to build plastic toys and create their own unique brand. The school is where the story kicks off.

I am instantly pulled into this comic book from page one. The art and coloring is superb and the overarching plot is intriguing. The first issue is a bit drawn out with all of the character introductions. Legrow introduces 14 characters. While it may have been nice to become familiar with them over a few issues, I do like her method of introducing the characters—by having the lead protagonist, Trixie Tangle, write a letter to the new girl, Minky Mermille, explaining all of the classmates. It keeps it simple not only for the new character, but also for the audience. The letter also becomes a way to cause some conflict between Trixie and Minky. I have a feeling they’re going to become friends as the story continues though. I am definitely interested enough to continue collecting the series.

Toyetica is published by the independent publisher, Action Lab. This publisher has been around for 5 years and is best known for their work, Princeless. If you’re looking for a new series from an independent publisher, this is a good way to go. It’s also for all ages and, from what I’ve seen so far, both parents and kids will enjoy the story.

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Little Women

By Louisa May Alcott

At first I thought I had made a mistake listening to Little Women on audio book (published by AudioGo) rather than reading it, but now I am glad I went ahead with listening to the book rather than reading a physical copy. I am not sure I would have made it past the first handful of chapters. By the end of the book, which I have come to realize is only the first volume originally published in 1868, I finally felt an attachment to the characters. The Good Wives, the second volume (1869) and not titled by Alcott, wasn’t included in this edition even though they have traditionally been combined since 1880. I am disappointed in the lack of volume 2 because I was finally starting to like the characters and, like others who demanded more, wanted to know what would happen to our protagonists. Therefore, I hope to read the second half of the story eventually. I will continue to write this ramble, and count it as my reading, because the novel is Alcott’s completed book before she was encouraged to write more about the sisters.

The story follows the four March sisters: Margaret (Meg), Josephine (Jo), Elizabeth (Beth), and Amy. It takes place over a year from Christmas to Christmas. The girls’ father is out helping with the Civil War and their Mom is at home raising them. I selected this book for the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge for a character with the same name as me, Amy. Amy is an artist and strong-willed. I liked that about her. However, she was also a brat and burned another character’s collection of writings out of vengeance. I did not like that. I mostly found her whiny and annoying, which disappointed me as we share the same name. I hope she improves as she ages in volume 2!

I will praise this book for two major themes: 1. Girls can be independent and 2. The love of family is strong. Their Mom, Marmee, encourages the girls to be confident, marry for love and not for money (if they even want to be married at all), and be self-reliant. For a book written in the 1860s, I am so glad Little Women became a phenomenon. How many young ladies have been influenced by these characters to go out and achieve their dreams? The love of family, blood related or not, is also a major theme I liked. The March sisters, while very sheltered, are deeply loved. Their Mom never fails to care for them, regardless of their transgressions, and regularly encourages the young ladies to be good and moral citizens. Marmee’s unconditional love is what we all hope for in a mother. Humans simply want to be loved and trust that our families will be there to have our back in all of our choices in life. I am extremely blessed with a Mom and Dad who encourage me in every opportunity that I pursue. I can relate to the March sisters in that regard. If anything has held me back, it has been my own lack of confidence. I understand others may not have been as lucky and I hope they found other family or friends to surround them.

While I related to the characters toward the end, I had such a hard time connecting with them at the beginning. The Mom and girls were too perfect, regularly referencing The Pilgrim’s Progress, and doing this or that in the most Christian and upright way. The novel felt overly preachy, like a run-on sermon. It did not help that the voice actress was doing different voices for each character, which made all the girls sound like spoiled brats, yet “perfect little angels.” Not sure how that works, but it is how I feel. The changing voices annoyed me. Another complaint I have is that, despite some character development, nothing much seemed to happen over the course of the year until two family members fell sick. My favorite scenes tended to be when Jo read the newspaper or they would put on “performances.” It reminded me of the playtime scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird or The Bridge to Terabithia. I really enjoyed those scenes!

In reflection, this coming of age novel was actually fun even if it won’t ever make my top 5 favorite novels. When listening to the last handful of chapters, I realized I actually cared what happened to these young ladies. I wondered if Meg would agree to marry, if Jo would continue to write, if Beth would sing and play the piano professionally, or if Amy would continue to improve her art skills. After reading a summary of the second volume’s plot, I am actually quite excited about Amy’s portion of the story and look forward to reading how that will play out in Alcott’s own words.

Rocket

Rocket Comic

Cover of Rocket, Issue 1 (2017)

After going to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 this week, I was inspired to check out the new solo series of Rocket Raccoon! This series, Rocket, is written by Al Ewing and drawn by Adam Gorham. Rocket appears on his own after he messes up something big on Earth, or at least that is the brief explanation we receive. While he’s at a bar his old girlfriend appears. She begs him for help and he warily accepts. Rocket gathers a team together to pull off an enormous, impossible heist. We have to wait till issue two to get the conclusion of it. I’m not complaining, as it was a well timed cliffhanger. I enjoy how the story jumps right into the action, setting up just enough to get an understanding of the planet he’s on and who Rocket is as a character.

I picked up this new series mostly because I was impressed with Rocket’s character in the Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 movie. Rocket had much more screen time and they developed his character on a much deeper level than the first movie. After the first Guardians movie, I had already fallen in love with Groot (I absolutely adore him as Baby Groot in the second film), but Rocket seemed plain and uninteresting. After getting more history behind his character, I thought, “A rocket comic might actually be fun.” I was not disappointed with this first issue and plan to continue collecting this series. Apparently the first story arc will be 5 issues long. I think it will pair nicely with the Baby Groot series that I will be collecting in late May. I will not be getting Guardians of the Galaxy comics of them as a team with Star Lord, Gamora, and Drax though. I have found after the many times I have tried to collect team comics, I just can’t get into them on a month to month basis. I find the comics that focus on a single character much more interesting and fun to read. That doesn’t mean I don’t like team-ups, I just don’t seem to like comics that focus on an entire team. For example, I picked up X-Men Gold and Champions recently.  While I like the ideas behind the stories, I seem to want more of specific characters rather than the whole team. Those might be series I’d pick up from a public library to read in the future.

Rocket is a heist comic that is hilarious and fun. It is not meant to be taken seriously, but rather as a comedy with some oddball protagonists. Oddballs tend to be my favorite.

The Extra Key

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I am excited to say I finally completed The Extra Key by Kevin Polman. I started it shortly before my best friend’s wedding in March and it got put on the back burner, unfortunately. Considering the overall plot and ending of the story I think it would have been timelier to have completed it before her wedding. Live and learn.

I was excited to purchase this book at one of the author’s readings in the Summer of 2016. Full disclosure, Kevin Polman was one of my high school teachers. He taught Chemistry and my A&P class. He was a great teacher and I learned a lot. I will admit he intimidated me a bit, but that’s not a bad thing. I felt like he challenged me to be a better and more independent student.

Now for the part y’all actually care about: the ramble review. The Extra Key is a slice of life story about a man, Corey, who loses his wife in a terrible car accident. Corey wallows in depression for a while, but then discovers letters from his late wife. In those letters she encourages him to move on. A shy man wary of doing anything outside his comfort zone, he is also greeted by little “talking” dogs that help him on his journey to recovery. Throughout his recovery he touches on various issues that many of us deal with: death, work environments, weight gain/loss, and low self-esteem. Through the protagonist tackling each problem, the audience may also feel compelled to reflect on their own problems and evaluate how they are handling each issue they come across.

I loved the prologue to this novel. In a letter from a woman named Sarah, she reminds Corey of the importance of having an extra key or the importance of asking others for help when it gets to be too much. “…many would rather jump off the ledge than ask for help. In the same way that humans are ashamed to admit that they might need an extra key for their car because it implies that they are capable of making a mistake, they might also be ashamed to admit that they need to have on hand the loving care and advice of other people to deal with certain types of problems. Unfortunately, the love key is the one extra key that humans have the most trouble asking for, acquiring, and using, even when it is fully accessible.” (p. 7). I related a longer quote than I normally would, however, that whole segment seems to perfectly sum up the theme and tone of the novel. Corey, as one who has lost his whole world, needs to remember how to love again. It is necessary for him to rely on others who love him and want what is best for him. There are many times when he expresses being alone or lonely, but the author clearly illustrates that there are people around him who are willing to be there for Corey at a moment’s notice. He is never completely alone.

Overall, it was a solid book and story and I highly recommend reading Kevin Polman’s first published novel. He has a collection of short stories and an illustrated book available for purchase as well, but I have not had an opportunity to check those out yet. For the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge, which seems less likely I will complete (unless I don’t worry about the categories and count all the hundreds of comic books I’ll read), I will make this my “Book published in the last year” check box, since my copy was published June 14, 2016. Feel free to check out Kevin Polman‘s blog on WordPress too! Personally, I enjoy his updates.

A Land Called Tarot

I began this blog one year ago! While I may not have been as consistent as I had hoped, I am still proud that I have at least maintained it! I hope you enjoy my coming reviews and writings!

Cover of a land called tarot

Cover (first published February 2017)

 

A Land Called Tarot by Gael Bertrand

Can you really read a book with no words? I think you can, if the illustrations are done well enough demonstrate the overall theme and plot and characters of the story. To illustrate my point, A Land Called Tarot is a fantasy story told in a comic book format with no dialogue. There are a few fantasy language words between segments and there are roman numerals that correspond with tarot cards. If I had been more familiar with the names of the cards and their association with the roman numerals, I would have had a better understanding about where the story was headed as the numbers were presented. For example, the first roman numeral given is XVI. This is 16, which is named The Tower. The hero travels to [spoiler] a tower! While I am glad I did not bother trying to interrupt the flow of my reading to connect the roman numerals to a name that would show me where our hero was headed, it will be fun to re-read with this knowledge in stow and piece the story together a bit more clearly.

I really enjoyed the flow of the plot. I will admit there were times I was a bit confused as to what was happening, but I came up with my own explanation and moved on. A story with no words requires the reader to develop their own understanding of the plot along with the artist. One of the reasons I purchased this book was because I thought I may be able to read it in a different way each time. I was correct. While I may understand more about the author’s intent as I study the roman numerals, nothing is stopping me from creating a narrative with the pictures in my own way—like reading a picture book to a child and ignoring the text the author provides.

After completing part one, my first thought was that I was reading video game cut scenes. I enjoy watching my fiancé and my former college roommate play video games. A Land Called Tarot seemed to have a similar pacing. Each quest seemed contained, yet connected. This is a positive thing, as I feel it allows for the wordless story to be a little better understood.

I would recommend taking a look at this graphic novel and really delving into the pictures. It is definitely worth seeing how good illustrations do not require text to tell a beautiful story. I am excited to know that an author/illustrator has successfully developed a story without the use of dialogue or words in general. It really demonstrates the power of visual art.

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XVI (photo credit: Bertrand, A Land called Tarot)