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: “The Martian” by Andy Weir (2012/2014)


The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am a vivacious reader, but very rarely am I truly surprised by a book. I spend most of my time reading books to edit for others, ARCs and galleys to review, or graphic novels and comic books for pleasure and review. Like all writers and readers, I have my tastes. Science fiction, fantasy, and action-adventure are some of my favorite genres, but because I critically analyze these genres, and I read an immense of content, I don’t often stumble upon a novel that captivates my attention by providing a high-quality read with the excitement of a new creativity. “The Martian” by Andy Weird delivers. It is riveting and fresh. It is reminiscent of highbrow science fiction films, but layered with nuance that only a novel can achieve.

I received “The Martian” as a galley via Crown Publishing Group—which is an imprint of Random House—and I chose “The Martian” based solely on its synopsis:

“Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

It plucked at my sensibilities in an abstract and I immediately requested it. It arrived a scant week later. I was graced with an ornate hardcover, a beautiful smell, and a gorgeous slipcover with an astronaut caught in Martian sandstorm. The colors are vibrant— Orange and red with a hint of a white spacesuit caught in the throws of survival.

In a word: Exquisite

“The Martian” follows NASA astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist and a mechanical engineer, on the third manned mission to Mars, Ares 3. The novel begins with a bang. Readers are not privy to the mission setup, crew members, landing, and the circumstances to Watney’s predicament. Without ruining the suspense and discovery, Watney is presumed dead and left on Mars (when in fact he is not) and is forced to survive on Mars without any means of communication till interplanetary comms can be reestablished or the next Ares mission arrives…four-years in the future.

The rest of the novel focuses primarily on Watney and his survival. Through the use of his mechanical and botany background, Watney comes up with some pretty ingenious ways to prolong his rations, Oxygen, water, and transportation. The narrative is primarily composed of Watney leaving logs for himself (or as a testament to his journey and untimely death), so the technical side to his endeavors are filtered through his warm and charming personality, which lightens what could be an overly scientific text— Changing a potential negative into a strong positive. Weir deftly avoids a common issue among science fiction writers with clever character development and use of perception.

The rest of the novel proceeds like Alfonso Curacao’s Gravity. It is deeply individualistic, but symbolic. The writing isn’t stretched by only focusing on a single character, because as the novel goes on it begins to layer in Watney’s support team on Earth. It provides a wonderful message of hope due to the global cooperation that is required to bring home an astronaut stranded on another world. “The Martian” doesn’t pull any punches or use its arsenal before the tale is done, either. It continuously builds upon the tension set by Watney’s survival till its climax. Its ending is extremely satisfying— One of the best that I’ve read in years.

After reading Andy Weir’s “The Martian” I was awed by the level of detail, character development, and sheer quality of the narrative. It is one of the best science fiction written and should be considered along the likes of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. If you get a chance try and read “The Martian” before the Ridley Scott-Matt Damon film adaptation, which is set to release in November of 2015— It is sure to be hit.

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Episode recap: Gotham S.1, Ep. 3 — The Balloonman


balloonmanGotham’s “The Balloonman” takes a much different tone than prior episodes—  You can almost see the visible growing pains as it flexes, to find its footing within the market of genres.  It is almost as-if the bloat of Gotham is weighing heavily upon the FOX’s executives’ and producers’ shoulders.  It is solidly placed, but they are still beginning to show signs of television fatigue.  That careful balance between cop show and comic book show still hasn’t been fleshed out properly by Gotham, but it stretches to get closer still with “The Balloonman.”

“The Balloonman” is the first episode to hit home on the episodic nature that Gotham needs to get into.  Like I’ve mentioned before, Gotham is struggling to appease comic book fans and television goers and—for granted—Batman is a force to reckoned with.  The iconic Caped Crusader has spawned countless successful media properties over the course of several decades and comic book-wise it continues to reach the top of the charts in terms of sales and accolades.  However, how do you make a series about Batman not be about Batman, and still keep fans coming back for more each and every week?  You make it a cop show centered-around the GCPD.

Gotham begins to hit its cop show stride with “The Balloonman.”  It begins to break away—albeit just for a moment—from the disjointed campiness of past installments, “The Balloonman” tries to shake its identity crisis by picking a formula and sticking to it.  Focusing on a criminal that is (you guessed it) attaching balloons to ‘legitimate’ criminals and sending them sky high to their deaths is more-interesting than past villains, merely because Jada Pinkett Smith’s overacted portrayal of Fish Mooney isn’t involved…anything without her is better.

However, even with the inclusion of a minor criminal that draw the attention of GCPD for just a moment is better than before, but it is still…well…Balloonman.  The episode tries to embrace a cop drama, but it is still executed rather poorly.  I praise the effort, but for Gotham to survive it needs to take a creative cue from similar supernatural cop dramas such as ABC’s ForeverForever takes a cliche premise, but back it up with a clever slant and an episodic quality that draws audience members for an hour-long, twisty and clever journey through the investigative process.

This is what Gotham needs to be.

The writing for “The Balloonman” is fairly straight-forward and there isn’t even an attempt at providing a feint or a ‘food for thought’ moment for the audience  The writing belittles fans in its simplicity, and if you are up to date on your actors and their respective appearances it will be quite easy for you to immediately spot the non sequitur…and thus the Balloonman.

Even though the writing is lackluster, I do appreciate the angle that they are trying to take, more-so than a superhero epic that is forced to exclude Batman due to the premise.  In my opinion, for Gotham to survive and be a multiple spanning series it desperately needs to become a ‘cop show.’  It needs to invest in providing in depth investigations with surprises and unusualness, all the while focusing on the character growth and camaraderie of Detective James Gordon and Harvey Bullock.

Unfortunately, at this juncture, television shows such as Arrow, The Flash, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are doing it better.  If you’re inclined to catch a superhero show to fill in the time between the films, check out the aforementioned shows, because Gotham isn’t cutting it…yet.

(SOURCE: Episode recap: Gotham S.1, Ep. 3 — The Balloonman)

Episode recap: The Flash S.1, Ep. 1 — The Pilot


The Flash - PilotI have never been so excited to watch the pilot of a television series.  And, to be fair I don’t usually get caught up easily in the hype of television.  Network marketing campaigns try to pander to universality, but even with this in mind I never have been so anticipatory for a ‘fresh-out-the-gate,’ new series.

I am a comic book nerd, and like all hobbies…I have my favorites.  As much as I love the CW’s Arrow, I was a neophyte to the topic.  Till recently, I had not read many Green Arrow graphic novels.  He just wasn’t a character that I was interested in at first.

However, the Flash (specifically Barry Allen) has always been one of my favorite comic book characters.  I love the lore and I have read nearly every Flash comic since 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, so when the CW announced a television series based on the Scarlett Speedster I was ecstatic beyond belief.  Once the mid-season finale of Arrow/Barry Allen crossover aired to audiences last December, the idea of a quality Flash series was proven and solidified…and I was hooked.

The Flash pilot begins with a brief introductory scene showing Barry Allen as a boy and the traumatic event that goes onto to shape the rest of his life (think Bruce Wayne expect more-hopeful in the end).  From there, the narrative springboards to the present— Starting before the conclusion of last season’s Arrow crossover.

Barry Allen has just returned to Central City and he is getting back into the groove of being back.  In stereotypical Allen form, he is late to an investigation as the acting crime scene investigator but one of the cops at the scene (and adoptive father played by the talented Jesse L. Martin) covers for him.  With only a set of tire treads and manure, Allen inevitably discovers the whereabouts of the criminals via his laboratory—  The very place in which he gets struck by lightning and doused in chemicals.

Essentially, the beginning serves as an introduction to Barry Allen, the supporting cast, and the overall aesthetic of Central City, just as any good pilot should.  The casting and writing are excellent.  Grant Gustin play a believable, young Barry Allen.  He portrays all of the little nuances of the character—  He’s clumsy, he’s perpetually late, but he has a good heart.  He tries to do good, even when he doesn’t always have the means.

The cast is rounded out by Law and Order alum, Jesse L. Martin, as Barry’s adoptive father and Central City Detective.  Tom Cavanagh plays Harrison Wells, the brilliant (but mysterious) scientist, mentor, and ultimate creator of metahumans within Central City.  The rest of the cast are primarily unknowns, but unlike FOX’s Gotham all parts are played with a sense of realization and believability.  This is especially impressive considering the nature of the show.

The writing is just as well-constructed as the casting.  It is surprising how much is packed into the pilot; the writing team took great lengths to respect the history of the character.

The pilot segues to the Flash’s origin and roughly depicts the same events that were shown at the end of the Arrow episode, Three Ghosts.  It then passes nine-months (throughout the term of his coma).  This is where the show gets interesting.  It is the first series to show metahumans— People with powers.  This is momentous for television, because in times past when they have tried to depict superheroes with powers it has come off incredibly cheesy and quite often bombed with audiences.  With the exception of Smallville, which carefully skirted Superman’s power set for years, television series’ have not dived headlong into CGI and in essence true superhero shows till CW’s The Flash.

The Flash has no qualms showing Barry running at high speeds, and the show pulls no punches by showcasing one of his primary villains right out of the gate—  An individual who also has fantastical powers.  The show does a wonderful job of introducing audiences to one of DC Comic’s greatest characters.  It holds true to the lore with only a little bit of a shake-up in terms of arrangement for television purposes, but nothing so far off the mark that it contradicts its origins.  The CGI and representation of the metahumans is superb.  Considering what the budget must-be and the risk it is to shoot a television series with a heavy reliance of individuals with superpowers the risk-reward nature is successful.

There are a ton of little Flash easter eggs and references to the Flash comics, so check out last Tuesday’s pilot episode and see if you can spot them.  Countless upon countless articles and posts could be written about all of the little facets and feats that The Flash pulled off last night, and as time permits, I will most-definitely be covering them throughout The Flash’s first season.

And, if you glean anything from this review…watch The Flash Tuesdays at 8/7c.

Episode recap: Gotham S.1, Ep. 2 — Selina Kyle


Selina KyleThe second episode of Gotham already feels a little too at home in its time slot and station.  Holistically broken down, Gotham isn’t honestly that good.  This is difficult for me to write.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time breaking it down into its parts over-and-over again in my head, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I was misled by my own hobby.  I am a huge comic book fan, but I’m not a huge Batman fan.  However, most of the seminal Batman works I appreciate and I keep tucked away in my repertoire for when I write about comics and when I am asked about them.

This is where Gotham gets me.  It plays into my fandom.  Although, to survive on television it essentially has to be a cop show, because it cannot exist as continuing series merely focusing on all of the many characters of Gotham—  Even that would run its course quite quickly.  It has to be one to last, because the origin story of Batman, or a retelling of Miller’s Batman: Year One, is not enough to create a sixteen episode series that will last multiple seasons.

So when you start to breakdown the cop elements of the show, you begin to notice the poor construction of the show.  Basically the good cop (Detective Gordon), bad cop (Detective Bullock) follow a loose lead on the good cop’s intuition and goodwill—  From there they have a tussle with the bad guys (but they get away), the investigation hits a wall, and in a last minute saving grace the good cop figures out where the bad guys will be and the two go and bring ‘em down.

Ep. 2Both episodes have played out exactly like this, which unfortunately makes for uninteresting television.  It is bad, formulaic writing for a show that should be well-within its ‘Wow, it’s Mr. Freeze’ stage of its life.  But, that is where it hooks comic book and Batman fans, because now audience members are looking for the next Clayface and Penguin references, or when is the Joker going to crop up?  It is more about the minutiae and detail of the lore, rather than the quality of the television series.

Episode two runs the same gambit—  Street kids are being kidnapped off the streets, Gordon pushes to investigate, eventually they find out where some of the operations are taking place, there is a tussle, the villains get away, and the show wraps up with the good cop, bad cop duo tracking down the kidnappers and bringing them to justice.  There are two small subplots intertwined throughout the second episode:  One following Kyle as she gets entangled in the street orphan, kidnap plot.  The other as the Penguin begins his brutal climb to (hopefully and eventually) criminal kingpin.

The episode’s title, Selina Kyle, suggests that the episode is primarily about her, but she is relinquished to the background and only crops up as a means to further the fairly straightforward plot.  The writing is merely ok (this is self-evident in the title), but the acting is often muddled and overplayed.  It already has the marks of an aged show.

However, it’ll most-likely retain its numbers, because well…it’s Gotham.  It is Batman and it strikes a chord with comic book nerds (like myself) and the millions strong that hold Batman dear to their little nerdy hearts.  As TV show, Gotham is below average—  Not the worst, but with offerings like Sleepy Hollow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. there is far better television to watch than Gotham this 2014-2015 season.