Thursday, 26 November 2020

Sylvia and Marsha Start A Revolution by Joy Ellison - Book Review

"Someday girls like us will be able to wear whatever we want. People will call us by the names we choose. They'll respect that we are women. The cops will leave us alone and no one will go hungry."

'Sylvia and Marsha are closer than sisters. They are kind and brave and not afraid to speak their truth, even when it makes other people angry.

'This illustrated book introduces children to the story of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, the two transgender women of colour who helped kickstart the Stonewall Riots and dedicated their lives to fighting for LGBTQ+ equality. It introduces children to issues surrounding gender identity and diversity, accompanied by a reading guide and teaching materials to further the conversation. '

In today's world LGBTQ+ rights and representations are still being fought for, and remain a 'hot button topic' for a lot of people. There are hate groups that will bombard television networks or movie studios for any queer inclusion in their entertainment, and here in the UK there's an incredibly vocal movement of transphobes who are actively fighting to have trans rights removed. 

In this kind of environment it's incredibly important that children are introduced to the queer community from a young age, to show them that we exist, but that we're also just regular people. Not only will this help to stigmatise the existence of the LGBTQ+ community, but will also help any child who is questioning their own gender or sexuality.

Sylvia and Marsha Start A Revolution is a book designed for younger children, and aims to introduce them to the transgender community, as well as two of the women who helped to birth the entire queer movement, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. 

The book isn't very text heavy, but it manages to get the information across really well, and is accompanied by beautiful and bold illustrations by Teshika Silver. It shows the basics of who the women are, and what it meant to be trans at that time, and how the police were against anyone who was a part of the LGBTQ+ community. However, I do get the sense that whoever is reading the book to the child would need to know a little about the events too, as I imagine there would be a few questions asked as the story unfolded.

Whilst the book gives a very sanitised version of events, and hardly even brings up the riots, it could be used as a starting block. This is a way of introducing a child to this history and these events, but you'll definitely want to explain more to them as it does paint a somewhat unrealistic version of history. But then I don't think a book aimed at such young children could really do the history of Sylvia, Marsha, and the Stonewall Riots justice as it's too deep, and frankly upsetting, thing to convey to a child. But as an introduction to the concept of trans people, of the queer community having to fight to be seen as human beings, it's really good.

The back of the book also contains a glossary of terms that are used, explaining what it means to be trans, or some of the slang that was used as code words for police. This is useful to both the children, and a parent that might not completely know everything on the subject too.

I'm sure that there will be some angry transphobes who will be foaming at the mouth at the mere existence of book for children that acknowledges that trans people exist, but those are outliers. This book is sure to be a welcome and useful addition to any home library or school, where it can educate, and tell children about a moment in history that went on to change the world.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Too Long A Sacrifice #4 – Comic Review


Originally published on Set The Tape

The final issue of IDW’s new Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series comes to a close with an issue that not only brings a satisfying conclusion to the mystery that has been plaguing readers for months, but also gives some deeper insight into the Star Trek universe.

Set during the height of the Dominion War, this story has put Deep Space Nine into a precarious position; whilst trying to stabilise alliances with other species to help with the fight against the invaders from the Gamma Quadrant, the station has been host to a number of attacks that have claimed the lives of innocent civilians, and important delegations.

As such, the security of the entire federation has been at risk, rather than just that of one station. The stakes have been high throughout, especially when the Federation sent in a special investigator, Retlaw, to assist with the case. Because of all this, any resolution was going to have a difficult job. Not only would it need to provide a satisfying conclusion to this mystery, but it would also need to tie into wider events across the Star Trek universe.

I’m going to have to talk about the resolution in order to put my feelings on not just this issue, but the series as a whole, into words, so if you don’t want things spoilt for you click away now. It turns out that the whole series of attacks, this big plot to possibly destabilise the Federations war efforts was all down to one woman wanting personal revenge. The culprit was Lavin, a Bajoran woman whose business was bombed in the very first issue.

It turns out that Lavin, like many of the Bajorans, suffered horrifically under the rule of the Cardassian occupation, and that her entire series of attacks was her trying to get even with those that hurt her and her family. Lavin had been so broken down and abused by the Cardassians that she was consumed by thought of hate and vengeance, which led her down this murderous path, where innocents were caught in the crossfire.

Not only does this story go back to many of the plots and themes that were a big part of what made Deep Space Nine great, but it also built up the universe a bit more, especially in regards to the occupation of Batezed by the Dominion, something that we saw briefly in this series thanks to the inclusion of Retlaw. This was a plot element that was never included in the show, though did feature in a few of the novels, so it’s nice to see it expanded upon here.

The character of Lavin and her struggles are used to highlight how bad it would be on Batezed, and how an occupation by such a brutal force could potentially change a planet of empaths and telepaths, a planet where the population are not only subjected to physical end psychological torture like any species would be, but have their very souls tainted by the presence of their occupiers. The show was always described as one of the darker series in the franchise, and this comic embraces that to make the reader think about the longer lasting impact of the Dominon War, and the scars it would have left on billions of people.

The issue is one of the better ones of the series, giving not only a satisfying answer to the mystery, but some action too as Odo and Retlawy chase Lavin through the station. Not only does this make this one issue great, but it also means that the series as a whole gets a bold conclusion that will leave readers satisfied.

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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Escape Pod: The Science Fiction Anthology by Mur Lafferty & S.B. Divya – Book Review


Originally published on Set The Tape

'Celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of cutting-edge science fiction from the hit podcast, Escape Pod. Escape Pod has been bringing the finest short fiction to millions of ears all over the world, at the forefront of a new fiction revolution.

'This anthology gathers together fifteen stories, including new and exclusive work from writers such as from Cory Doctorow, Ken Liu, Mary Robinette Kowal, T. Kingfisher and more. From editors Mur Laffterty and S.B. Divya comes the science fiction collection of the year, bringing together bestselling authors in celebration of the publishing phenomenon that is, Escape Pod.'

Escape Pod began life as a science fiction anthology series fifteen years ago, created by Steve (now Sarah) Eley, a fan of science fiction short stories who wanted to share some great tales with the world.

Over the years the podcast grew, gaining more and more contributors and vocal talent, as well as winning awards and spawning spin-offs that would do the same thing in other genres. To celebrate the success of the podcast, as well as the talent featured on it, Escape Pod: The Science Fiction Anthology brings together a number of stories that have featured on the podcast, as well as a host of brand new tales.

The line-up of authors for the book is amazing, and features some names I was already familiar with, as well as a load of new authors I’d never come across before. Despite all falling under the umbrella of science fiction, the stories presented in this new collection cover a huge variety in themes and content, ranging from the surreal to steampunk, involving multiverses, cloning, time travel, and amazing alien creatures.

There are stories that will make you laugh out loud at their absurdity, and others that take the time to comment on very real world issues, such as racism in the world today and the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is one of the things that’s wonderful about science fiction, that this book takes the time to celebrate: that it’s a genre of almost infinite diversity, and one that allows readers and writers to look at important issues in new ways.

‘Citizens of Elsewhen’ by Kameron Hurley is the first story in the book, and deals with the complexities and intricate nature of time travel, and how difficult it would be to meddle in time. It follows a group of people who are sent backwards in time to assist with births. This team of midwives are sent to select times and places, tasked with saving either the mother or child, sometimes both, who would otherwise die in childbirth, shifting the course of history ever so slightly.

If the team fails, they try again to get it right, getting do overs until they succeed and move on to the next assignment. The idea of travelling around time saving mothers and babies is an interesting one, but the way that Hurley plays with time is even more engaging. The team get to try different tactics if their last attempt failed, having an almost Groundhog Day approach to things until they get things perfect, but because there are other teams out in time saving others, sometimes in earlier time periods, it means that sometimes the timeline can change around them whilst they’re there, further complicating things. It’s a novel approach to time travel, and I’d love to see more happen with this story.

A story with something of a lighter tone is John Scalzi’s ‘Alien Animal Encounters’, which is presented like a reporter on the street talking to the public about the different alien animals that they’ve come across and how strange it is for them. Not only do readers get introduced to some funky new alien species, some of which are fascinating, but they also get to experience it from the other side, when an alien talks about their experiences with a dog; something that injects a little bit of wonder and newness to an animal that we’re intimately familiar with, and might take for granted. It’s a charming story, and one that has a few laughs in it.

The book doesn’t just deal with aliens and time travel though, and incorporates some interesting ideas from other genres too. One story that does this in an interesting way is ‘A Consideration of Trees’ by Beth Cato, which sees a portion of woodland from Earth transplanted to a space station, and the strange things that begin to occur. The first indication that there might be something different is when the narrator starts to talk about La Llorona, a ghostly woman from Hispanic folklore. Over the course of the book we come to realise that this isn’t just a science fiction story, but one that incorporates aspects from myths and legends, introducing supernatural elements to a genre that normally shies away from ghosts and ghouls.

The biggest story in the collection is ‘Clockwork Fagin’ by Cory Doctorow, which as the name suggests, takes inspiration from the works of Dickens to create a steampunk story of disabled and disfigured children forced to live in a home for children, run by a brutal taskmaster who allows them to live in squalor and beats them for his own enjoyment. The story chronicles what happens when a new child enters the home, and the revolution that he leads against their oppressor, and a society that sees them as nothing more than broken children that are good for nothing.

Escape Pod: The Science Fiction Anthology has a lot more stories to offer, stories that have a huge range of appeal and will keep any reader entertained for hours. Not only is it a book that shows the beauty and versatility of the science fiction genre, but it’s one that will leave you wanting to read more, as well as checking out the podcast that brought this book together.

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Monday, 23 November 2020

Tanz! Volume One by Maurane Mazars - Book Review


'Germany, April 1957. Uli has a dream: to become a famous Broadway dancer. But as a modern dance student at the prestigious Folkwang school, Uli’s energetic and outgoing personality stands out in sharp contrast to the melancholy of post-war Europe. During a trip to Berlin, he meets Anthony, a young American dancer. The attraction is immediate. Anthony convinces Uli to come to New York and try his luck on Broadway. The young men part ways, but Uli will pack his bags and embark on an adventure that will take him to a new life overflowing with life, color, and movement — but also disappointment, harsh reality, and a good dose of heartbreak.'

Tanz! tells the story of Uli, a young ballet dancer from Germany in the 1950's. Uli is, for the time and place, a very happy and enthusiastic young person, traits that not all of his friends share, what with the country recovering from the ravages of the second world war. Over the course of several months the reader follows Uli has he travels around Europe, and eventually moves to New York, in his mission to find a career in dance.

I wish there was more to really talk about in regards to the plot, but I have to be honest, not a huge amount really happens in this first volume, with large sections of the book given over to sequences that show Uli and his friends dancing, or travelling around Europe. Whilst these sections look pretty, thanks to the artwork that Mazars utilises in the book, they don't really move the story forward very much. Whilst not a problem on its own, these moments probably came to about half of the page count of the book, meaning that by the time I was done I was left a little disappointing that I hadn't gotten more from it. 

I wanted to lean more about Uli, I wanted to know why he loved dance and theatre so much, what drove him to push himself to succeed, yet I never really felt like I got to know him very well over the course of this first volume. He would do certain things, but I never knew why he was doing it, what his motivations were, so I never felt too connected to him or his journey.

Even when the book touched upon potentially important and interesting discussions, such as the queer community in the 50's, or the difficulty that Black dancers faced in comparison to their white counterparts, these moments didn't really go into any real depth. Yes, a character would say 'you've got it easy Uli, I don't get the same opportunities as a Black man', and that was about it. I wanted these issues to be explored more, but they didn't get the chance to really shine here.

I'm hoping that the future volumes of the book will go into these things more, that we'll get some interesting social commentary, and that Uli will begin to feel more fleshed out. I'm hoping that as this is just the first volume that Mazars is simply still setting the stage for more interesting stories to come. It's possible that I might have missed some things, that there was more to this book than I was able to pick out, and I hope that others will enjoy it more than I did, but sadly I was left feeling a bit empty by the read. Fingers crossed future volumes will change my mind.

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Sunday, 22 November 2020

Dawn of the Dead (1978) – Blu-ray Review


Originally published on Set The Tape

Zombies are a big business, with hundreds of films, video games, TV shows, and comics all including the shuffling (and occasionally running) undead. Despite the prevalence of zombies in pop culture today, and some would say over-saturation of the creatures, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would deny that George A. Romero is still the undisputed king of the zombie genre, and the man who made the creatures what they are today.

Whilst some of the later films in the series would be less well received, the early films are still considered some of the best in horror, and cinema in general. The new limited edition release of Dawn of the Dead from Second Sight Films presents one of these amazing movies in what might be the best package yet.

The film follows a group of survivors following a mysterious phenomena that has swept through the United States, resulting in the dead coming back to life as walking corpses that seek to eat the flesh of the still living. Three weeks into this event we find Peter (Ken Foree), Stephen (David Emge), Fran (Gaylen Ross), and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger), four survivors who come together in a plan to try to flee from the carnage that’s overwhelming Philedelphia. Together the four of them find their way to a local shopping mall that they decide to make their home. Blocking the entrances and killing the zombies within, they make the mall habitable and settle in to ride out the crisis. But things don’t quite go as they planned…

There have been a lot of releases and editions for Dawn of the Dead – it is after all one of the most beloved horror films of all time – so what makes this edition stand out amongst the competitors? Well, for starters it’s been given a new 4K scan, and the film has been given a restoration, meaning that this is easily one of the best looking versions of it that you’ll see. With so many older films being transferred to DVD and Blu-ray, it can be easy to find some where they’ve just been put onto new formats with little care given to the quality, and there are Blu-rays out there that look barely above VHS quality. This edition has been given the time and care it deserves to make it jump out on the screen, and it definitely shows.

Not only has the film been given a lovely restoration, but it’s also packed with extras. The set comes with seven discs in total, as well as some extra treats like a 160 page booklet filled with essays, and the novelisation of the film. The first disc has the original theatrical cut of the film, as well as two audio commentaries, including one with director George A. Romero, special effects artist and horror legend Tom Savini, and actress Christine Forrest; who is also married to Romero. The second disc has the extended ‘Cannes’ cut of the film, along with a commentary from producer Richard P. Rubinstein. Disc three has the third version of the movie, the Argento Cut, which is slightly shorter than the theatrical edition, but also comes with a cast commentary.

If you’re still hungry for more after watching all those versions and listening to the multiple commentaries, the fourth disc comes packed with a host of special features and behind the scenes extras, including several new documentaries and interviews. One of these new special features, ‘Memories of Monroeville’, follows Michael Gornick, Tom Savini, Tom Dubensky, and Taso Stavrakis as they return to the mall where the film was shot, and share memories and behind the scenes stories about the production. The disc also includes two documentary films, including Document of the Dead, which followed Romero during the production of the film, and even comes with an extended cut and commentary too. The final three discs are audio CDs packed with music and soundtracks from the film.

I don’t think it’s too big a stretch to say that this is easily the definitive set of Dawn of the Dead, and is a must have for any fan of the franchise, horror nerd, or movie lover in general. An absolutely stand out set.

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Saturday, 21 November 2020

Stage Mother - Film Review


Originally published on Set The Tape

Stage Mother is the story of a mother dealing with the loss of her son, whilst also discovering acceptance and love of the LGBTQ+ community, and finding a fresh new start in life.

Maybelline Metcalf (Jacki Weaver) is a Texan housewife and conservative church choir director whose life is suddenly altered when she receives a phone call telling her that her son Rickey (Eldon Thiele) has died. Having not seen her son in ten years after he came out as gay, Maybelline insists on travelling to San Francisco to attend his funeral, against the wished of her homophobic husband.

Once in San Francisco she discovers that Rickey owns a drag club, Pandora’s Box, and that she has since inherited it. She also comes to meet a number of his friends, including his neighbour Sienna (Lucy Liu) who named her son after him, and his partner Nathan (Adrian Grenier), who is now looking at losing his home and his business as he inherited nothing from Rickey, who refused to marry Nathan until his mother accepted him and came to his wedding. Feeling guilt over having not been able to reconcile with her son, and not wanting to see Nathan and Rickey’s other friends suffer and lose out, Maybelline decides to stay in San Francisco for a while and try to turn around the failing club.

Queer cinema can be a tricky area; there are so many films that centre on LGBTQ+ people that turn out to be films that try to send a message that being queer is wrong, or that living ‘the lifestyle’ will result in a person suffering or dying, that it can be hard to find a really good, uplifting one. Yes, some of these films are amazing and moving, like Philadelphia or Boys Don’t Cry, but they often leave you feeling sad, and can paint a very depressing picture of life as part of the queer community. At first glance you might think that Stage Mother would be walking a similar path – after all, it does open with a gay man and a drag queen literally dying on stage – but this is a film that seems to have a lot of love for the LGBTQ+ community, and wants to show people how much joy, love, and hope that it has.

Maybelline is a definite outsider to this community, a woman whose only experience with the community is a son she hasn’t seen in a decade, who her husband wants to pretend doesn’t exist anymore. Suddenly she’s thrown into a world where she’s meeting a man who’s essentially her son-in-law, gay drag acts, and trans women. But despite having no experience interacting with people like this before she doesn’t judge, she doesn’t mock, or turn away. She sees them as people, real people with feelings and accepts them for who they are. She was never able to tell her son that she loved him, that she accepted him for who he was and adored the man he grew up to be, so she pours those feelings into the people at the club. She not only teaches them to be better singers and performers, but she reaches out to them and gives them the very real help that they need.

There are a few scenes in this film that really hit hard, that I think will make any member of the queer community pause for a moment because that pain of losing family and friends is something we’ve all experienced to some degree or another. Even if your family accepted you, there will have been times where you ran through scenarios where they would disown you, where you’d lose them. So many queer people have experienced that fear, and some have had to live that reality too. These moments in the film made me cry, but not always for bad reasons. There are characters that Maybelline helps who get that acceptance, who get reunited with family who’ve turned away from them. She makes parents see that they can still love their children even if they didn’t turn out the way they though, and that’s a powerful message of hope.

Stage Mother not only represents the queer community in content, but also in its cast, with some great gay actors and drag queens taking part in the project, including Oscar Moreno, Jackie Beat, and Allister MacDonald. It also features an openly trans character, Cherry Poppins, played by real life trans woman Mya Taylor, who starred in the critically acclaimed Tangerine in 2015. It might not seem like much, but including gay and trans actors in these roles is a hugely important thing, especially in an industry that still hires cis men to play trans women.

The film doesn’t pull its punches with the hurt that can sometimes come with being a part of the queer community, but it also shows that it is a community, that love and strength can be found within it. It has a wonderful message, presented in a heartfelt and moving story full of laughs and fun moments. It’s a film that surprised me with how great is was, and whilst I was crying at the end, it was for some really good reasons.

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Friday, 20 November 2020

Bone Harvest by James Brogden - Book Revie

Originally published on Set The Tape

'Struggling with the effects of early-onset dementia, Dennie Keeling now leads a quiet life. Her husband is dead, her children are grown, and her best friend, Sarah, was convicted of murdering her abusive husband. After Sarah's tragic death in prison, Dennie has found solace in her allotment, and all she wants is to be left to tend it in peace. Life remains quiet for twelve years, until three strangers take on a nearby plot and Dennie starts to notice unnatural things. Shadowy figures prowl at night; plants flower well before their time. And then Sarah appears, bringing dire warnings and vanishing after daubing symbols on the walls in Dennie's own blood. Dennie soon realises that she is face to face with an ancient evil - but with her dementia steadily growing worse, who is going to believe her?'

Bone Harvest tells the story of retiree Dennie Keeling, a woman suffering with the affects of early dementia, and her life working on her allotment. A sweet and kindly woman, Dennie is the hero of the book, a hero who is forced to step up and fight against otherworldly horrors as a bizarre and deadly cult begins to form when two new members join the allotment.

Dennie has been living alone for a number of years, her husband having passed away and her children all grown up, and as such has been pouring all her spare time into her allotment; even sleeping in her shed some nights, much to the annoyance of those running the place. As such, when she begins to suspect that there's something strange with these new members she feels like it's down to her to protect her home away from home, as well as the other people who use the allotments. However, Dennie has been suffering from ill health, and any claims she makes of something unusual going on will only be blamed on her dementia, forcing her to investigate alone. 

When Dennie begins to see the ghost of an old friend, who seems to want to help her in her mission, she must figure out if there are strange forces at work, or if perhaps others might be right, and she may be losing her mind.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Bone Harvest was that James Brogden skipped over some of the sense of mystery that other books would use to hook you. Instead, you get a lot of answers up front, as the first hundred or so pages of the book are given over to Everett and Ardwyn, the books antagonists. We learn who these people are, why they do the things they do, and if there actually is a supernatural being behind everything. Other books wouldn't have done this, they'd have teased these revelations out over the narrative and used the mystery to hook the readers.

Instead of relying on mystery to keep you reading Brogden lets you in on the secrets and uses the horror of the truth to keep you hooked. Instead of thinking 'what bad things might happen?' the reader knows exactly what might happen, and is instead worried about who it might happen to. It also meant that instead of learning things along with the hero like a lot of novels, we're one step ahead in this mystery, and get to see her close calls with danger, or getting nearer to answers. It's a strange position to be in, knowing more than the protagonist, and leads to some frustrating moments where we see her getting so close to the truth but just missing out on her answers.

Another thing that really jumped out at me about the book is just how English it is. The horror is rooted in how ordinary and somewhat boring the narrative is. Dennie lives in a small town that feels very real and recognisable (she at one point talks about getting her doll from Loughborough, a town next to mine). The allotments are such an English institution that you'l find them in most towns around the countryside, and I've spent time in them with my grandparents more than once. I loved how grounded the book felt and how relatable it was. These were people and places that I knew, and I'm sure other readers will find familiar too. This could have very easily been my grandparents and their allotment neighbours as opposed to made up characters. It was really nice to get a horror book that felt so relatable when so many horror stories seem to be set in places around the world rather than rural England.

It was also nice to have a book where the protagonist isn't you're average kind of hero too. Dennie is an older woman, her body isn't as fit as it used to be, and her mind is beginning to suffer thanks to dementia. Things that other characters would be able to do without issue are a struggle for her. Something as simple as sneaking along in the dark to spy on the strange new people at the allotments are a difficulty for her as her joints hurt, she can't move as fast, and has no way to protect herself if she gets caught. It highlighted how things that most people might simply take for granted could be a challenge for others. As a disabled person I love getting to read a protagonist who isn't able-bodied, who has some of the same struggles that I do.

I've got a few James Brogden books on my self but haven't gotten round to reading them yet (the issue with a TBR pile that's hundreds big) but after reading Bone Harvest I'm definitely exited to read more. He's managed to craft an engaging and engrossing tale, one that goes against a lot of horror any mystery conventions by letting the audience in on the secrets, but manages to never feel boring or predictable. Bone Harvest is a book that took my expectations and turned them on its head, and one that's definitely going to stick out in my memory.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

The Cult of Eden by Bill Halpin - Book Tour

'Newlywed Will Battese finds himself homesick and overwhelmed after following his ambitious wife, Shannon, to New York City. When a surprise pregnancy shreds their already meagre budget, Will drops out of college and settles for work at a low-end diner. There, a small act of kindness draws the attention of Victor Degas, a man with an unsettling presence and deformed eyes. Unbeknownst to Will, Degas belongs to an ancient, sophisticated cult known as the Edens and believes Will to be the key to gaining otherworldly power. 

'As the sun sets on Good Friday, Degas orchestrates a home invasion in which Will and his baby boy, Gideon, are kidnapped, leaving Shannon to join forces with an unreliable agent from the Roman Catholic Church. While Will struggles to save other innocents from the Eden parish below the city, Shannon discovers that the cult plans to use her family for an unimaginable demonic ritual, and that the Vatican may let it happen. With no one to trust but themselves, Shannon and Will must fight not only to survive, but to keep their humanity intact.'

The Cult of Eden is the first part in a new series, 'The Unrisen', but is an easily satisfying and entertaining stand alone novel too.

The book follows several members of the Battese family, as their lives are turned into a nightmare. There's Will, who's moved away from his quiet home town to live with his new wife, Shannon, in New York. Despite hating the big city Will has been trying to make a go of it with Shannon and their new baby boy, Giddeon. Despite being a great chef, Will has had to take a job working in a less than perfect restaurant in order to support his family, but is making enough to help support Shannon's higher paid job.

When Wills father, Richard, little brother Danny, and his grandfather Griff, all leave their old lives behind and decide to travel to the big city to live with Will things begin to look up for the Batrese's. However,when the family's first gathering is attacked by mysterious masked assailants the men are all captured and taken to a strange location, one where a bizarre cult needs them to perform a ritual. Now the family are left fighting for their lives.

The Cult of Eden wasn't what I was expecting from the initial premise. First of all, the book is structured quite differently that I thought it would, skipping between a number of focal characters depending on what chapter you were reading. This was used quite well for a lot of the book, and meant that the reader got to see what was happening during other events, or occasionally got extra insight into things that happened in a previous chapter, now that the focus had shifted. 

However, there were a couple of times where I felt like perhaps the chapters could have been slightly better served by being shifted around in their order, because one would take the tension out of another. For example, one character was left trapped in a room with no apparent way out in the end of one chapter, but then appears at the end of the next characters chapter, revealing that they managed to get out before we see that happen. It's a small niggle, and one that only happens once or twice, but something that I'm hoping Halpin addresses in the next book.

These shifts in character focus also allow for a few surprise moments at certain interludes, where the action shifts away from the main narrative, sometimes giving us more detail into characters that are only really on the periphery for the main narrative, and in another teasing out a mystery that takes the whole book to be revealed, and seems to hint at bigger things to come in the series.

The story also managed to keep me guessing for a lot of it, as it was never clear exactly what was going to be coming next, and whilst I did expect certain things, like the cult to kidnap the family, there were so many twists and turns along the journey that a plot that could have felt like it had been done before was fresh and interesting. These twists were great when it came to the idea of the supernatural being introduced to the narrative too. There were moments where it looked like the cult were actually working with otherworldly forces, yet there was enough doubt about it to make you never sure if this was too fantastical a development to be real. The book does give you a definitive answer by the end, it foes tell you whether or not supernatural forces are real, but I certainly wont be spoiling that in the review other than say that the journey to the answer was a lot of fun.

I think it's probably worth pointing out that there is a lot of violence in the book, and Halpin doesn't shy away from describing some brutal moments in very vivid detail. This might put some people off, but I never felt that it went too far, going into the territory of 'torture porn' or anything like that, and there are definitely a lot worse horror films out there. If you get through the initial attack on the Battese family then you'll be able to get through the book as a whole, so stick with it if you can; but of course, if these parts are a little much for you I completely understand. Horror is not always for everyone, but there is a really good story mixed in with the violence here, one that is worth reading and sticking at.

The book seems to bring a lot of the Battese's story to a close come the end of the book, and whilst there are definitely threads left hanging the book would still be a satisfying read all on its own. but, this is the first part of a series, and as such not everything will be resolved in this book, and you will be left wanting to read the next one. Personally, I'm definitely interested in finding out what happens next, even if the Battese family don't play much of a part in the next instalment. Halpin has managed to craft a world that's interesting and intriguing enough to be able to carry on in new directions and explore new elements and still keep me wanting to read more. I'm certainly looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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Wednesday, 18 November 2020

My Summer As A Goth – Film Review


Originally published on Set The Tape

My Summer As A Goth is a coming of age story that follows 16-year-old Joey (Natalie Shershow) as she spends the summer vacation with her grandparents following the sudden death of her father, and the journey she takes to self-acceptance and happiness.

Joey has reached the end of the school year despite the recent death of her father, and being something of a loner who hates hanging out with most of the other students. When her mother has to leave town for a number of weeks, Joey is sent off to stay with her grandparents.

Unlike most movie grandparents, Joey’s are actually quite cool, and try to make sure that Joey is having a good time, whatever it is that she needs that to be. They give her space, encourage her to explore, give her a big wad of cash to have fun with, and try to get her to make some new friends. One of these new friends is Victor (Jack Levis), the grandson of their neighbours.

Joey is instantly drawn to Victor. His goth look grabs her attention, and his brash and forward personality is something that helps to draw her out of her shell. With the help of some of his friends Victor gives Joey a make-over, getting her to embrace her inner goth. At first this is a great thing, and Joey begins to discover a new sense of happiness and freedom that had been eluding her; but over the course of the summer she begins to suspect that Victor might not be the amazing guy she first thought he was.

My Summer As A Goth is a film that instantly intrigued me, in large part because I was curious to see just what it would try to do with its representation of the goth community. In most media goths are either painted as depressed, lonely teens who revel in death and a gloomy aesthetic, or they’re used as the punchlines for jokes. However, this movie really seemed to understand that goths are as varied and interesting as any group of people, and that just because someone wears black clothing and dark make-up doesn’t mean that they’re going to be depressed or sad all the time.

The film embraces the idea that being a goth can be something fun, something that brings people a sense of happiness and joy. The film does use being a goth as a punchline a couple of times, but in subversive ways, by showing that it’s not what people expected. One young goth couple get told they look like ‘a couple of dead honeymooners’, to which they respond with a big grin and a thank you. It’s small jokes like this that make the film really charming; it doesn’t include goth culture just to make fun of it, but embraces it.

Whilst most of the goths in the film are handled really well, and are given pretty well rounded personalities, Victor is a bit of a caricature. He wears clothing that’s very over the top, stark make-up even by goth standards, and his attitudes seem to fall back on some reductive stereotypes. Now, I suspect this is done on purpose, and Victor isn’t the nicest character in the world, and the other goth friends that Joey makes are much nicer in comparison. However, some people might find Victor’s portrayal a bit reductive, or even offensive at times.

Other members of the cast are great however, with Joey’s grandparents being some of the more fun movie grandparents I’ve seen in a while, and people I’d probably enjoy hanging out with. There’s even a fun scene where they take Joey to experience bingo for the first time, at a bingo hall where the host is a drag artist. Not only is this scene fun and subverting of expectations, but it’s handled really well, and whilst there are a few laughs with the drag queen character they’re always with them, and not at them; which is how much of the comedy in this film works, making comedy where people’s differences aren’t a punchline.

The film proved to be a fun and touching coming of age story, one that encourages the idea of self exploration, to try new things and new social circles. If your life is in a rut and you don’t feel like you fit in, maybe it’s because the people you’re surrounding yourself with aren’t the community you need, and perhaps the people that will help to make you happy are out there somewhere.

The story has an uplifting message, and a sense of fun and hope to it that stops it from feeling tired, even if this is the kind of story that we’ve seen before with a goth make-over. I ultimately had a lot of fun with it, and I’m sure that a lot of you will too.

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Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Just Act Normal: A Pie Comics Collection by John McNamee - Book Review

'This third collection from The Onion and the New Yorker contributor John McNamee features his most absurdly relatable comics on our futile attempts to seem “normal,” and why that’s hilarious.

'Pie Comics began as a college comic strip way back in the mid ’00s, when flip phones roamed the earth. But after a shoulder injury forced cartoonist John McNamee to simplify his drawing style and improvise comics, Pie Comics evolved into the beloved strip it is today!'

Just Act Normal is a very fun book, one that won't take you long to read through, but will definitely act as a good pick-me-up when you do. 

The book isn't a graphic novel, there's no overarching narrative at work here, instead it's small one page stories that are designed to make you laugh. It's this simplicity that really endeared me to this book, coupled with the very easy to understand art style that borders on basic. The style is so simple that I've found myself wondering if I've seen some of John McNamee's work before, shared around on the internet as funny jokes and memes, or if it's just similar to other stuff I've seen before.

Ultimately, I don't think it matters if I have seen his work before or not, as the book completely stands on its own thanks to each comic being its own thing. There are some that feature the same characters across a number of strips, like the depressed goth, but even these don't need to be read in any kind of order or with continuity in mind. 

The humour here is very silly, and at times it's even downright bizarre, but even when some could argue that the jokes were stupid, they still made me laugh because of the amount of charm put into them, and the delivery that McNamee manages to get into simplistic panels.

If you're looking for a fun book that's inoffensive, will make you smile, and will take up an hour or two this book will definitely tick those boxes for you.

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