Book review: “The Syrian Virgin” (2014)

The Syrian Virgin (The Syrian Virgin #1)The Syrian Virgin by Zack Love

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tackling sensitive, timely issues is daunting for any author. There is a certain kind of finesse required to openly discuss hot button topics that rarely transcends into the fictional narrative. However, it is not only imperative to the people that writers push the boundaries of the social and political climate, it is also necessary to do so in order to improve upon the human condition. This is the goal for any writer, but not all have such strength of technical skill and forethought to bring such a project to fruition.

Zack Love accomplishes this daunting task with his novel, “The Syrian Virgin.” By focusing on the treacherous path of his young protagonist, readers get to follow in the footsteps of a fascinating character that is not oft touched upon and experienced by western audiences. Bridging American culture with those abroad is imperative to the overall construct of “The Syrian Virgin.”

The protagonist, Anissa, and her family are caught in the midst of tragedy and war in the Middle East. She resides within the Christian minority of the region and is thrust into an emotional and physical journey to New York where she meets two sharply different men with assorted backstories of their own. The characters and setting are depicted realistically and readers get to see this growth from the first chapter, resulting in a quick-paced, engaged writing style.

Love’s novel does a superb job of rounding out a cast of believable villains and heroes by bait and switching readers between a deep sense of likability and outright persecution. I use “villains” and “heroes” loosely, because most of the characters reside in the gray, like all individuals do. It is not juxtaposed or contrarian in the slightest, because it hits on what it means to be human. We are all flawed creatures and it is expressed through desire, love, and hate. Zack paints a picture that other similarly calibered writer’s would find difficult finishing.

From a technical aspect, “A Syrian’s Virgin” is solidly constructed. Transitions and character growth are natural, while some of the contextual information is a bit hasty. Love’s strong suit is definitely in his character building. The cast is diverse, personality-wise, which keeps readers guessing and alters the dynamic of the tale on the fly with minimum jarring to the reader.

“The Syrian Virgin” is more than a worthwhile read— It is enlightening and sheds light on sensitive topics that others might not feel comfortable writing or reading about. As previously iterated, we need more novels of this stature. The concept of other cultures, a better future, sexual awakening, and personal discovery need to be written about. The world would be a better place for it.

I highly recommend picking up Zack Love’s “The Syrian Virgin,” because you won’t be disappointed by the words nestled betwixt its covers.

For more news and information concerning Zack Love’s work, his website can be viewed and perused by clicking here.

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Book review: “Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution” by Keith R.A. DeCandido

Sleepy Hollow: Children of the RevolutionSleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution by Keith R.A. DeCandido

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Adaptations hardly ever do the source material justice. In fact, they often do just the opposite. They bomb. They are truly awful. Video game adaptations of film and televisions suck. Film adaptations of video usually bomb as well— Truly bad.

Books are not exempt from this unwritten rule, either. More often than not, novelizations of films and televisions are usually half-assed…they’re easy ways for publishers and TV shows to make a quick buck. Hardcore fans love ‘em, because they fill in on the lore of their favorite media properties but they lack in the quality department. Ultimately, they usually end up in a bargain bin somewhere dusting away.

“Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution” by Keith R.A. DeCandido is one of the few exceptions and counter-examples to the aforementioned rule. It reads well. From a technical standpoint it reads akin to that of a script from the television show. Most of the scenes are expressed in third-person via Ichabod Crane, and the plot line closely follows Crane and his partner Abbie’s exploits in modern day Sleepy Hollow.

One of the largest complaints that I usually have with book adaptations is their bare bones quality. They’re oft difficult to read. The writing is either done poorly because of time constraints (or a less-than experienced author), and the meat-and-potatoes of the novel suffers making it almost unreadable. DeCandidio has knowledge of the craft. Whether he was in a time crunch (or not) he pulls it off, and if you’ve ever read any decent third-person, supernatural themed novel then you’ll enjoy “Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution.” Its construction is solid.

Plot-wise it places in the midst of the first season— Right between the episodes, The Golem and The Vessel. The catalyst of the novel stems from a vision that Crane receives from his wife, Katrina, concerning medals bestowed by George Washington during the Revolutionary days. Moloch and his minions want the powerful relics for evil, thus the witnesses (Crane and Abbie) need to thwart them to further their objective of saving humanity. It follows the rough formula of each episode of the series, but it cuts nicely between two episodes to bring readers a little more information and insight into the characters and overall arc of the series.

All-in-all, “Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution” is a good read. It is solid in its own right as a supernatural thriller, and it pays fan service nicely to the acclaimed television series. It is definitely worth the gander.

For more information regarding the Sleepy Hollow television show and related media check out ARSchultz’s website ( and Facebook page. And, don’t forget to check out the sure-to-be amazing premiere of Sleepy Hollow season 2 tonight on FOX.

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Book review: “Words for Pictures” by Brian Michael Bendis, foreword by Joe Quesada (2014)

Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic NovelsWords for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Bendis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Words for Pictures” is an interesting text— More-so because it is exactly that: A textbook. The author, Brian Michael Bendis, is a writer that I have read for years; he has written some of my favorite superhero tales from the modernization of the New Avengers to his current X-Men runs to the stellar Secret Invasion and Age of Ultron Marvel events. He is the quintessential rockstar of the comic book world, or as he would put it: Comic book famous.

Rarely do audiences get to see the man behind the curtain. We get see their art, but we are removed from their perspective and upbringing. How did they get into the comic book industry? What drives them to write or draw? Where did they go for schooling? How does the editorial process work? How do I become published in the comic book industry?

There are a myriad of questions that get lost in the shuffle of the work, which is not necessarily a bad thing but sometimes there are people who want to know more. The final product, whether it be a piece of writing and/or art or an amalgamation of the two such as comic or graphic novel, should be viewed in the most holistic light as possible, but there are some of us who want to peel back the layers and learn more about the industry and the process to better understand the human experience.

Luckily for us, Brian Michael Bendis followed in the footsteps of the greats before him and created “Words for Pictures,” which is along the same lines as Dennis O’Neil’s “The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics,” Alan Moore’s “Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics,” and Will Eisner’s “Comics and Sequential Art.” It is a modern guide for the aforementioned who want to learn more about the industry. Whether you are curious about breaking into the business or are merely a perspective reader, “Words for Pictures” strikes a chord.

The book covers all aspects of the industry. It begins with a thoughtful introduction by Joe Quesada praising Bendis for his work and ability to create such a guide whilst anecdotally speaking of his own career. The book then segue-ways into the basics and career of Brian Michael Bendis as a writer and educator, as described by him. As he starts to get into the nitty-gritty of script writing he begins to have fellow writers interject and describe their own writing processes and collaborative efforts with fellow artists. This is a unique and clever structure, because it allows the reader to see Bendis’ methodology as well as several others which begins to coalesce into working idea of the readers’ own take on the writing process.

The middle of the text unfortunately becomes a little dry. The narrative shifts abruptly to focus on the artists. This normally wouldn’t be a negative, but the information is conveyed poorly. Essentially a large group of artists were gathered (or at least their responses were) and given a series of questions. This style was executed poorly because as a reader you are subjected to a main question and then the artists’ dozen or so follow-up answers that were merely the same ones reiterated over-and-over again. After the first ten-pages or so of the interview responses they began to blur with another and I was loosing sight of the information being presented. I ended up taking a breather and coming back to it, to finish that particular section.

However, the final portion of the book closes out with a bang and ticks up wonderfully. It is chalked full of helpful inspiration for writers at all stages in their career. There is an entire section devoted strictly to the editorial and submission process, another focusing on the business aspect of writing as told by Bendis’ wife and business partner, a FAQ, and finally tips and tricks of the trade which includes what it truly means to be ‘a writer’ as described by Brian Michael Bendis.

All-in-all, “Words for Pictures” is a fantastic text. It comes from the heart of an educator, but more importantly, the mind of a writer. It touches base on all the important facets of the comic book industry and creative process. Save for a brief dry spell in the middle, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of the craft and business of making comics.

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Book review: “Xom-B” by Jeremy Robinson (2014)

XOM-BXOM-B by Jeremy Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Xom-B” is one of Jeremy Robinson’s best novels to date. It takes a simplified approach to science fiction by being relatively plain spoken but incredibly deep by diving into the ramification and potential of humanity. It isn’t simplified in the derogatory sense, but much the opposite. It uses a specific style to accentuate the plot and subsequently, hard-hitting questions. It poses a myriad of inquiries that invoke his audiences into pondering their own existence and what it means to truly be a human.

Is it our characteristics? Our equal propensity for love and hate? Can we be something greater than we are now? All of these questions are touched upon inside the pages of “Xom-B”— Some more thoroughly than others but always touched upon. The depth at which Robinson explores these lofty topics seems to depend upon the narrative structure, or probably more intimately so…his own thoughts upon the questions themselves.

“Xom-B” begins by focusing on the near feature. Humans have advanced far enough where we have created life-like servants that provide us our every need, however, this leads to a grave injustice. Essentially, humans have created a new sect of society to subjugate and exploit. Decent people treat the artificial servants as one of their own, but there are just as many who do not. Some are sexually exploited, verbally and physically abused, while others are required to serve without question no matter the task. A tangible, ethical debate and rallying cry arises in the form of organized, peaceful protests from the aforementioned servants; the humans balk, and war ensues.

The plot then flashes forward to follow the most recent life of the new world order, Freeman; Freeman is fresh-faced, young, inquisitive, and intelligent. He questions authority and he seeks answers— The very mentality that could topple a fledgling empire and spark a new one…a better one. Audiences follow Freeman as he meets and allies himself with a wide cast of characters with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Robinson does a masterful job developing his characters. Each main character presented is given a proper backstory and motivation for their actions. The characters that strive to change (or at the least have the propensity to change) end up doing so with all pains present and included. The growth is logical and straightforward. This aids in the narrative and then culminates into near-perfect synergy…something much more than itself. The plot could be considered hard sci-fi, but because of how it is written it focuses so much more on character growth than the overall setting, atmosphere, and futuristic aspects of the framework. This results in a reminiscence of Arthur C. Clarke’s “Against the Fall of Night,” especially in its careful crafting to draw the reader’s focus to the overarching theme rather than the minutia. It may be classified science fiction in the strictest sense, but it poses big questions by following the journey of an individual trying to simultaneously escape, embrace, and find humanity.

An author’s style is an important facet to their career and writings, and some authors are fairly rigid in their methodology. Some stay well within their wheelhouse and constantly improve that particular style as they write throughout the years, others (like Jeremy Robinson) vary their style. They challenge themselves by matching a diverse cast of styles to the content, and in the case of “Xom-B” it pays off wonderfully. That being said, some longtime readers of Robinson may be put off because they prefer a singular style, while Robinson is delivering a different flavor. It would be hard to argue the validity of that point because in all honesty every reader reads differently.

“Xom-B” is a fantastic work of fiction. “Xom-B” is character driven, it provides insight and asks important questions in terms of what is means to be human, and it does so brilliantly in a straightforward plot that includes a great twist and conclusion. I highly recommend any reader who enjoys a quick-paced novel, science fiction, and/or the writings of Jeremy Robinson. He out does himself with “Xom-B” and I personally look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

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Book review: “The Harlem Hellfighters” by Max Brooks, illustrated by Caanan White (2014)

The Harlem HellfightersThe Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Max Brooks is the author of “The Zombie Survival Guide” & “The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks,” “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War,” Dynamite’s “Raise the Dead,” and IDW’s “G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds.” He continues to further his work and interests with his latest release “The Harlem Hellfighters.” Instead of creating a traditional book depicting the unsung, heroic events of the Harlem Hellfighters, Brooks teamed up with artist Caanan White and created a standalone graphic novel that not only tells a masterful series of anecdote, but illustrates it for audiences as well.

“The Harlem Hellfighters” tells the tale of the 369th African-American Infantry Regiment during the first World War. The graphic novel opens with African-American New Yorkers being conscripted into the war effort and follows them as they progress through bootcamp into training and onto their eventual contribution to the French Army during the war. “The Harlem Hellfighters” places emphasis on the blatant racism, bigotry, and abuse that these young men suffered through along their way and throughout the war. Despite these near-debilitating setbacks, the 369th became one of the fiercest (and ultimately most-decorated) units in World War I, subsequently becoming known by the Germans as the Harlem Hellfighters.

Interestingly enough, the United States forced the Harlem Hellfighters to train with broomsticks in only several weeks worth of training (opposed to the months that white troops received); this forced the black troops to write their own government as pretend rifle associations in order to be properly supplied. At the time the United States government had a shortage of rifles because they were giving away so many of them for free to rifle associations across the United States rather than supplying their own troops. This is just one such case of obvious racism in the military during World War I.

These aforementioned examples provide a level of detail that are layered throughout the novel. Acute facts, verbiage, and historical accuracies are sprinkled throughout a rich narrative that includes real people along with amalgamations of individuals and fictional characters. This makes for a great read— Presenting historical fact and knowledge in an entertaining way. The plot is gripping (but not overbearing) and it hits close to home in the terms of current social and political struggles. The cadence of the novel can be a bit jarring at times; it seems to jump sporadically, which made it hard to follow, but taken in the context of chaos and war, the style fits the topic perfectly.

Caanan White’s artwork compliments Brooks’ plot line wonderfully— It is vividly realistic and depicts the horrors of war and racism in tandem and equality. The artwork is in black and white, which adds to the story. The lack of color harkens to a spyglass look into history. It fits more comfortably than the coloration of modern comic books. High gloss and bright colors would have detracted from the overall atmosphere of “The Harlem Hellfighters.” White’s work realistically showcases the polarity of social change, war, racism, and history. In the end, this methodology aids in the overall quality of the work presented.

“The Harlem Hellfighters” is well-worth the read. It tells a story that is oft forgot and not widely known, which on its own makes the graphic novel deserve a read through. The story is highly detailed and accurate, and even though it can jump at times it still presents an enjoyable story woven throughout a historical narrative. The artwork is phenomenal and adds so much more ‘oomph’ to an already stellar tale. I highly recommend anyone interested in war history to take a gander at “The Harlem Hellfighters.”

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