GAME REVIEW: DOES DREAM DADDY REALLY LIVE UP TO ITS HYPE?

It feels like the whole internet has become obsessed with this overnight- spawning dozens of pieces of fanart, as well as lets plays, conspiracy theories and an inevitable toxic fandom– and why wouldn’t it? With the developer Game Grumps’ huge female following and its rare inclusion of gay men (including MOC and transmen) as datable romantic leads, it was bound to become a hit. Add to boot a mysterious secret ending hidden in the data files, its got everything needed to gain a huge cult following.

But is this game actually live up to its hype?

Well, after watching the strong opening on youtube (courtesy of Rantasmo) and seeing the positive response from gay and trans people, my curiosity was peaked in spite of my general disinterest in dating sims. So without further ado, lets have a look at the game.

 

maxresdefault (5)
DISCLAIMER: Closest I’ve ever played to a dating game sim 

BUILDING YOUR DREAM DADDY: THE GREAT REPRESENTATION BEGINS HERE!

Probably its biggest claim to fame is the amount of diversity this game has, including well rounded characters who are gay, POC, and trans (plus it even has interesting female characters in the forms of Amanda and Mary).

Though there are great games  like Portal, Borderlands, Child of Light, Undertale and the Persona 3 and 4 with well written queer/ female/ POC etc characters, it’s no secret that the video game industry is lagging behind every other creative medium in terms of treating anyone not the presumed ‘default’  straight white/ Japanese etc as a human, in spite of an increased amount of female players and players  who are gay or of color.

1291556-sazhairsmilechoco
Love you Sazh, but Japan, what were you thinking with the chocofro?

Anyone not part of that demographic is barely considered appealing to as a periphery demographic, let alone the main demographic. So the fact that Dream Daddy exists is huge.

First off, it lets you have a wider range of body types than normal. You can choose to be a gym bunny, skinny guy, a bear or even freaking Goku.  (It lets you have Goku hair and eyes. I loved the concept). I just went for the eye candy, but judging by the delighted twiiter response, a lot of gay players were delighted to be able to play as someone like themselves.

Dad.png
I created this handsome fella to be my protagonist

As for POC options, this one allows you to choose a range of skin tones, as well as hairstyles and features more typical of African Americans, including dreads ,cornrows, fuller lips and rounder noses.

And most notably of all, you can make your character cannonically trans. I  wouldn’t have noticed it if it wasn’t pointed out, but it does give you the option of wearing a binder, This is small, but such a wonderful acknowledgement which has really resignated well with trans players, who are typically relegated to being punchlines in games if included at all, although this improving at least in Western games.

NOT YOUR BLANK SLATE DATING SIM LEAD

Although you may be able to fully customise your sim, your dad’s personality is clearly defined. He’s a loveable goofy sitcom dad. Kind, laid back and socially awkward, he loves nothing more than spending time with his daughter, avoiding the gym and making bad dad jokes. No matter what dialogue option you chose, it could never make your character completely left field of his basic personality, and all the ‘bad’ dialogue choices came across as more of a case of MC putting his foot in his mouth than being cruel.

I think this was the right choice, because it made his relationships with the other characters (which I’ll move onto in a second)  more engaging and give or take. The only problem was the occasional disconnect between character and character model. There’s no way a character with 0% body fat and abs to die for would be that horrified by the thought of going to the gym and spend all day eating nachos.

zelda-620x349.png
Damnit Link. I don’t care what your ingame excuse is,HOW CAN YOU NOT EMOTE!?

Plus, if I chose to play as a trans dad and chose to date the trans character, wouldn’t MC have shown more of a reaction after the binder revelation? Just one extra line of dialogue just would have made it that much more immersive.

THE DADDY DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIP

amanda

 

A great advantage of having a clear personality as your lead is the banter. What sold me on this game is the relationship between Amanda (your daughter) and MC. I LOVED Amanda. A world away from the bratty valley girl, she is a vivid, funny, quirky teenage girl who’s supportive of your relationships, but also brings her own teenaged troubles to the table which was really engaging and heart wrenching.

In effect, you’re working towards two endings for your dad. You’re working towards getting the good Amanda ending, as well as the good ending with whichever dad you’re hoping will be your one true love. When i first played this, I went for hunky married youth pastor Joseph because I knew he’d be a train wreck and I wanted to see what happens. I ended up getting up getting the Bad Ending with him (apparently the youth of today don’t appreciate my dance moves), but even though I ended up alone, it wasn’t a sad ending because I still had Amanda and it felt really real and bittersweet.

Of course, just don’t get both the Joseph and Amanda bad ending because it’s just that depressing.

INTRODUCING… THE DADS

Now, we’re onto what everyone’s really interested in: the smexy mancandy. Basically, the first part of the game sets the scene and deals with Amanda. After you’ve met all the dads, it allows you to go on ‘Dadbook’, where you make a profile, and choose which dad to date. You can date any dad up until you choose to go on the third date, which is when you will commit to a dad and get his ending for better or worse.

Here’s a quick intro to the dads, but if you’re not interested, skip to the paragraph below Joseph.

BRIAN

image
Helloooo, Murse!

Brian is the bearish rival dad. You spend your whole time competing with him while he shows you nothing but magnamity and kindness- so essentially his story involves our protagonist creating conflict where none is to be seen.

ROBERT

robert-dream-daddy-screenshot

He’s essentially the ‘damaged bad boy with a heart of gold.’ He’s an interesting story because his story intersects Joseph’s, making for a more interesting story. The only downside is that half of his ‘rebellions’ and ‘bad boy actions’ feel excessively juvenile rather than a badass. To me he felt like that rebellious cousin you look up to when you’re 15, but doesn’t look so cool when they’re 39 and still exactly the same.

CRAIG

BONUS-DAD-TENT

A very popular dad and your college best friend, he’s the typical sporty ‘jockish’ dad. You can tell he’s very manly because he uses bro every other sentence. He’s pretty cool because he’s a gay asian whose conventionally very macho, which is something very rare in the media.

DAMIAN

damian

The bizarre goth dad. Although they don’t have a clear handle on what goth is (referring to My Chemical Romance goth, even though its one of the defining bands of the Emo movement and generally despised by Goths), they use his OTT nature for some pretty entertaining scenerios. His is possibly the most entertaining route.

MAT

dream-dad3.png

He’s the cute nerd who gets flustered and babbles on an awkard tangent. Although not as instantly sexy as Craig or some of the others, his and MC’s shared doofiness do make for some heartwarming moments and he’s a grower.

MR VEGA

hugo-havarti-screenshot

The sophisticated teacher who ironically has the gobby hellraiser of a son. I’d feel sorry for him, but he named his own son Ernest Hmingway. That just screams ‘Man Who Goes To Tate And Mistakes Dropped Crisp packet As Revolutionary Piece Of Art.”

JOSEPH

maxresdefault (4)

If you ever fantasised about gaining a virtual dick and sticking it in crazy, then Joseph is the route for you. He’s married to what seems to be an awful alcoholic and is very invested in being a role model to his church, so already we have more conflict than the other dads. He is the one dad who completely diverges from the traditional dating conventions, as his story possibly touches on the closet and also unhappy marriages and infidelity. Both his good and bad ending are bittersweet, and both are actually worth playing. PRO TIP: Complete the first two dates for Damian and Robert before going down Joseph’s route. It makes for a better story.

As you can see from the descriptions, it plays out like a typical dating game sim, and your success with your chosen dad depends on your  responses to certain questions and situations.

For the most part, I found Most of the dads are really, really likeable and the dialogue is on the sweet and uplifting side. There’s not much conflict (except when pertaining to the Joseph and Robert  routes), but the dialogue is engaging and funny enough to keep you hooked. I suppose the overall feel can be described as sort of Steven Universe without the aliens, where everyone is basically warm and engaging,

Because of the three dates rule, it’s significantly shorter than your average dating sim/ graphic novel (especially when compared to goliaths such as Fate Stay Night). Because aside from which dad you choose to interact with, the storytelling is mostly linear and so if you want to restart it can get a bit repetitive.

The best thing to do is create a character and go on two dates with each dad, and then complete the final date.

ATTITUDE TO GAY PEOPLE

 

This was my biggest worry, considering the way male/male romance and yaoi tends to belittle and fetishize gay men.

As I played this I did not believe for one second that this game had a gay man as a lead writer for a variety of reasons I will go into in a different post. I guessed bisexual female based on the Teagan and Sara reference and the way Amanda was written, and judging by my research I was right. This is very much a gay relationship put into a  heteronormative dating framework.

However, it does not treat its male leads as yaoi bate and made them engaging well rounded characters and contains none of the belittling of gay men that I’ve come to expect from this type of genre.

DID DREAM DADDY LIVE UP TO ITS EXPECTATIONS?

Overall, yes. In terms of inclusion, it lives up for its reputation. As for the writing, although it is pretty short and linear, the writing is suprisingly good, with plenty of references to geek culture, humour, genuine character interactions and even moments tha can be heartbreaking and touching.

HOWEVER, due to its very linear path and short length, it somewhat lacks in replayability. Even though it’s popular at the moment, unless it spawns some sequels, it lacks the replayability to be an enduring classic like Fate Stay Night.

RATING

3 bad dad jokes out of 5

 

THOUGHTS FROM ACTUAL GAY PEOPLE

It has to be noted, as a bisexual woman, I am not the group that is represented in this.

For some thoughts on it from gay/ trans men who are represented in the game, I have a few links here:

http://kotaku.com/what-we-liked-and-didnt-like-about-dream-daddy-1797270467

https://mic.com/articles/182664/dream-daddy-trans-inclusion-damien#.yTcqvGSos

 

GIRLS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS: 12 AWESOME TITLES THAT EVERY WOMAN SHOULD READ

Superhero movies are taking over our both the big screen and small and after seeing The Avengers, Jessica Jones, the new X-Men franchise and Deadpool to name a few, you kind of want to check out the comics and graphic novels they were based off of.

However, entering the world of comics for the first time can be a weird, convoluted and sexist and bizarre place. Even with the New 52 reboot, some stories still become a convoluted mess with endless tie ins, seeing your favourite heroines from the tv shows turned into badly written fap material (poor Starfire), and we have cases such as Frank Cho throwing a hissy fit because Greg Rucka (an amazing writer) told him to alter his cover design to make it less sexualised. However, the comic book industry has gotten a lot better, and there are a lot of really great comics and graphic novels out there which treat women with respect and are accessible to new readers.

12. OLYMPIANS- by George O’Connor

Athena-cover.jpg

If you’re interested in Greek Myth than this is a great start. It’s fun, clever and provides a very faithful and thoughtful look into the original mythology of the Olympians. This is the series that transforms both Hera and Aphrodite into interesting, nuanced characters instead of the two dimensional hateful bitches they’re normally portrayed as. My reviews of his take on Hera, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Hades, Demeter and Persephone can be found by following the links.

11. Batwoman Elegy

18fct02vm2szzjpg

Isn’t it ironic that a character created to be Batman’s beard became one of comic’s most prominent lesbians? Yeah, Kathy Kane was a silver age creation when distaff counterparts were all the rage, and Kathy Kane along with Bat-girl – no, not that Batgirl, we’ll get to her later- her whole schtick was that she was obsessively in love with Batman. It is believed in order to disprove rumors that he’s gay with Robin. And FYI, her edition makes things so much gloriously worse- just look how miserable Batman is at the prospect of kissing an actual female!

silver age batman.jpg
I love you Silver Age, you never fail to make me laugh

She eventually got retconned out of existence for being ‘too silly’ (presumably along with alien killer cactuses, Rainbow Batman and Batbaby- yes, Batman got turned into a four year old and attacked people on a rocking horse. That happened). However, she was brought back and reimagined as a proud lesbian for the New 52. In this version, she was kicked out of the army under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and wandered around aimlessly, becoming a party girl to forget her problems. She eventually decided to sort her life out and serve her country by taking up the cowl. Colonel Kane her father supported her in her goal and got her years of specialised training with the best of the best, and turned her into a force to be reckoned with.

Greg Rucka is amazing at writing women, and J.H. William’s artwork is divine. Because the whole point of the New 52 was to reboot the comic cannon and make it accessible to new readers (whether it worked or fell flat on its stupid face is debatable), there’s no long backstory you need to know to understand it. Batwoman was my first ever comic book. The reason it’s not ranked higher is because- well, after the opening, the comic does go to really weird places, including having her fight this banshee creature and being assisted by a B-movie werewolf. It’s story telling often becomes shakey, but Batwoman herself is a great character.

10. Batgirl and Robin Year One

screenshot_2016-11-04-15-15-44

Barbara Gordon is the iconic Batgirl and yet it’s quite difficult to find any comics centring around her pre- New 52 reboot. Here is a chance to read a modernization of the character’s routes before it all got messed up with The Killing Joke. In this, Barbara Gordon is a young woman living in a sexist time who wants to join the police force but is barred due to discrimination thanks to her gender and height. Defying everyone’s expectations of her, she takes up the cowl. Even Batman and Robin underestimate her at first, but she proves herself a valuable asset and her training begins.

Because the whole point of this is an origin story, there’s no need to have any prior knowledge of the Batman universe to understand that. Plus, it also stars a young Dick Grayson, and we all know that he’s always very popular with the ladies.

9. V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta comics.jpg

No doubt you’ve seen the movie and know how strong Evey is. Well, the graphic novel is just as good as the film, if not better, and is thought provoking and worth checking out. Alan Moore has a very- spotty- record with female writing, what with humiliating and putting Babsy in a wheelchair and having his female characters constantly threatened with sexual assault (not to mention often pairing them with much older men), and both are true here, but here Evey goes through one of the most compelling character arcs in all of comic books, changing from a frightened victim to revolutionary who carries on what V began.

8. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

moon girl

This is definitely one for younger audiences, but it’s fun and there’s definately something for older audiences. Lunella is very rare in that she’s a POC heading her own comic book, and she’s a black girl genius. Moreover, she’s a great character and her struggle with being gifted and the iscolation it brings is really engaging. For more of a discussion of it, I’ve reviewed the first issue here.

7. Lumberjanes

screenshot_2016-11-04-15-16-45

I heard a lot about Lumberjanes- that it has the great art from the artist who wrote for Adventure Time. Because of the title and the fact it was essentially about a group of girl scouts, I was skeptical. Whenever we read about stories trying to change the way women are portrayed, they inevitably seem to be slice of slice focusing on smaller issues about firendship, coming of age, when sod it- I just want heroines beating the crap out of people and saving the world!

But in spite of that, I was pleasantly surprised. This is that this is a good old school fantasy adventure. It’s fast paced, with a mystery to solve and a whole array of magical creatures they have to defeat. It’s a bit sweet and for a younger audience, sure, but it’s still incredibly fun.

6. SAGA- Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

screenshot_2016-11-04-15-17-45

This is definately one of the most engaging series I’ve ever read and actually had me screaming ‘NOO!!’ Every time a chapter ended and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it hadn’t. This award winning series is a Romeo and Juliet in space about a couple from two sides of a conflict who have a baby and are on the run from both sides. It’s from the man who wrote Y: The Last Man, and has a plethora of well written females.  Not only that, but it’s bad shit insane and manages to switch between being dark and funny

Even though it’s about a horned man, a winged lady and involves humanoid robots with tv heads which breed like normal humans, it also has one of the most realistic romances I’ve seen in a long time. It doesn’t start with the meet cute, but after they’ve had a kid, and they bicker and compromise like real couples.

Again, there’s a lot of diversity in terms of race, with the female lead and Gwendolyn both being women of colour.

 

5.Batgirl- Silent Knight (Cass Cain run)

screenshot_2016-11-04-15-14-43

The erasure of Cassy Cain’s run as Bat Girl is one of the casualties of the New 52 reboot, but her series is pretty cool. Not only is she a young Asian superheroine who’s non sexualised, but she’s a complete badass who’s proficient in martial arts and an unstoppable fighting machine.

She was raised to be a warrior, but never taught to be a woman. In place of language she got taught to read ‘body language’- people’s movements in combat, and as such can’t speak. Jurie’s out whether this is the coolest or the dumbest idea ever.

4. MONSTRESS- MARJORIE LIU

screenshot_2016-11-04-15-15-01

3.Rat Queens

rat-queens-vol-01-releases

This is one of the most enjoyable series I’ve come across. I’ve reviewed it here, but essentially it involves a group of cool female friends who’s friendship feels authentic . I love the snarky humour and it’s utterly bombastic, plus the fight sequences are AMAZING.

Not only that, put it has a pretty diverse range of characters, with a lesbian in the main cast, multiple people of colour and one of the rare trans women action leads whom is looking likely to become more prominent. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to read out a badass transgender Orc woman who can annihilate everything in her path.

2. The Batgirl Of Burnside

screenshot_2016-11-04-15-16-08

I could have put Gail Simone’s run here- and that is definately worth reading- but it was diminished by production issues, its continuous insistence of bringing the Joker in for angst but never allowing Barbara to defeat him, and tie ins to the Death In The Family event which made this series incoherent.

The Batgirl Of Burnside, however, is a great series that is everything New 52 should have been: it really gives her an identity that’s far more than ‘Batman/ Robin’s distaff knock off’, a distinctive world, a great cast of characters and its great solid fun.

The art is gorgeous, and Barbara’s a non sexualised, highly realistic young woman who lives a normal daily life which involves worrying about her Grad project, going on dates, using social media and hanging out with friends. Also, this series has the first trans same sex wedding in comics, which is a nice bonus.

With ‘Batgirl and The Birds Of Prey’ becoming a series, maybe Batgirl will become a spin off more akin to Angel, Xena and The Bionic Woman, a force in her own right and more than just Batman’s distaff. For a more detailed review, please click here.

1.Ms Marvel

screenshot_2016-11-04-15-18-12

Carol Danvers (the original Ms Marvel, who’s now become Captain Marvel) is another great choice, but I had to go with the Kamala Khan version. I was torn between putting her and Batgirl at number one, but as much as I love Babsy, she is still a distaff counterpart, and I think Kamala might be a slightly better character- I like her doofiness, how much of a geek she is and how she struggles with her relationships with her parents.

Everything about this is great. I love how Kamala started off as a geek idolising the Avengers. The way her Muslim heritage is brought into it is done in a very nuanced, fun and interesting way- showing that Muslims aren’t a monolith, and it deals with Kamala’s frustrations with the restrictions placed on her compared with her peers.

ALSO WORTH CHECKING OUT/ HONORABLE MENTIONS

Spider Gwen is an alternate version of Spiderman where Gwen was bitten instead of Peter Parker- which involves our heroine . Greg Rucka is always great at writing women, and his run on Wonder Woman Rebirth should be promising. Nightwing is a male lead series which has a female audience in mind, as he is a strong, smart more vulnerable young man who is striking out on his own after being in Batman’s shadow, and is the hottest guy in comics; Deadpool isn’t great on women, but his series is every bit as hilarious as the movie and no Marvel knowledge is required. Plus, he became a pirate once for the hell of it- and yes, it was every bit as awesome as it sounds. Persepolis and Bitch Planet are known to be great as well, and as they are their own self contained stories, no prior knowledge is needed (although in the case of Bitch Planet, I personally prefer my feminism more incidental to the story, and build into the world and character writing, rather than being the whole point of the story). Plus, Riri Williams, a genius black girl with become Ironheart in the new Iron man series.

FIRST LOOK: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in PASSENGERS

Yeah, you totally clicked for Jennifer Lawrence in the swim suit, don’t lie to me!

Passenger is a Sci Fi story about what would happen if they cloned Jennifer Lawrence so she could be in every Hollywood movie this year… okay I lie. What this movie is about is a romantic meet cute INNN SPAAAAACEEEE

homer-simpson-donuts-in-space.jpg

When SHIIIT HITS THE FAAAAAANNNN…

ANTS.gif

Yeah, gas giants and messing up gravity doesn’t exactly get me in the mood to for having dinner, but apparently ensuing disaster gets those two ready to pick out curtains. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence were meant to be in stasis for a hundred years while their ship they travel to a new planet to start a new life (2016 certainly has that effect on people) , but alas something goes wrong and the two of them wake up, only to find that something is disastrous is happening with the ship.

First off, the water effect looks amazing and it makes me wish that Katara could have pulled that shit in ATLA. Imagine if she drowned the fire nation in one of those balls? Well, it would probably not be suitable for kids anymore, and probably why I’m not a director- but that bit was cool. I suspect it’s the best bit in the whole movie.

Less cool was when they changed scene and we got the romance. Oh God, the romance. The dialogue ‘We’re on a date’ ‘ very nice’  Took you long enough to ask’ in the most artificial way possible. When Pratt’s character got the robot to give her that love note, I was thinking ‘seriously, mr Robot, do you want to give Ms Lawrence some cheese with that note?’I’ll admit I really don’t like the romance genre, but I can get on board if it’s nuanced and has really well written characters. However, this looks like a very cookie cutter couple with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence playing Hollywood Romantic leads rather than feeling like actual people. So far we have melodramatic declarations of love, cheesy declarations of love, the much older guy of course (Pratt is 11 years older than Lawrence), and with all the action and the time period there’s no way it’s going to develop in a natural way and will probably be ‘sass first and then insta love.’

Maybe the action will save the romance, but thus far I’m not sold. So far, the cutesyness really doesn’t go with the action and it undermines the stakes, and it looks like a sci fi with a romance sub plot tumor as the focus of the film. This could just be a marketing ploy however: the romance to draw the Twilight fans and the action to draw the Martian and Star Wars fans. But as of yet, neither the romance or the action looks good enough to draw me in.

Also, the scene with that robot slamming its head on the bar and sliding it along the surface? Totally becoming a gif that will feature heavily in the upcoming year.

 

COMIC REVIEW: PRINCESS PRINCESS EVER AFTER- by Katie O’Neill

So, it’s fair to say that I am a little bit old to be the target audience of Princess Princess Ever After, but after spotting it in an article on The Mary Sue  I thought I’d give it a look. I love anything to do with fairytale worlds with strong women women in it, and sometimes you just feel like reading something  colorful and feel good. Honestly, it’s just a cute, fun story that I’d recommend to any kid- and not just because its progressive, but because its got a good sense of humor and adventure, with characters that are surprisingly nuanced for such a short book.

The most obvious thing about Princess Princess Ever After is that yes, it is a  fairy tale with a same sex couple aimed at children. And that’s a big thing. Although things have generally gotten better with LGBT people in media aimed at adults and even a YA audience, even liberals are often uncomfortable with the idea of a same sex couple in a kid’s book or tv series (see Korrasami). This is because while they see opposite sex romance as fully encompassing romance, companionship, and innocent first love, they see same sex as equaling gay sex.

This book shows that this doesn’t have to be the case. The tone is perfect for children: sweet, innocent and with a good sense of fun. The story is far more about two very different young women bonding and going on adventure together (with a prince in tow) than it is about romance- although their relationship is adorable.

The characters are all likable and surprisingly fleshed out for such a short story. Its two main heroines are Princess Amira, the tomboyish knight, and Princess Sadie, the cute girly girl.

Princess Amira is a great character. Strong and brave, who ran away from home to avoid conventional gender roles. In a genre which overwhelmingly glorifies delicate white (usually blond) women, it’s great to see a black Princess who’s not the usual ‘white woman painted brown’, but has a hair that looks like a style that a black woman is more likely to have and comes from an African culture (my guess would be North Africa, judging by the desert). Though an aside… does something about Sadie and Amira remind you of anyone?

.

Princess Sadie is the more conventionally feminine one,and my God, is she adorable. She’s sweet and cries a lot, but possesses a kind heart that makes her a good leader. They do have a traditional butch/ femme dynamic, though this is clearly done to show that there’s more than one way to be a girl rather than out of a belief there has to be a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in every relationship. This book does try and mix it up a bit and show that feminine does not equal inferior and Princess Sadie is just as useful as Amira. It’s a lot like Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe or Haruka and Michuru from Sailor Moon, or Utena and Anthy from RGU. As a woman who’s been in the army and seen that the tomboys really don’t perform better than the femmes, I’d totally love to see a story where the girly girl is a kick ass fighter and rescues her butch girlfriend, but hey, Sadie does get some rescuing in too..

princess-princess-oni-pdf-2-1

The villain is one that shows that sometimes it’s the ones closest to you that can hurt you the most. The only downside is that the main villain was defeated in a very quick and convenient way once the emotional confrontation was over. This seems to happen a lot (especially in stories aimed at girls), but the book was never about the final showdown and packs so much in that it doesn’t really matter.

The drawings are also really cute and make it a joy to flick through. They’re full of bright, round designs with lots of cute fairytale creatures like dragons and unicorns.

Verdict: This is a brilliant comic and one I’d recommend to any kid- especially little girls, who can probably find a bit of themselves in both our heroines.

Rating: 5 tomboy and girly girl animated couples out of 5

REVIEW: BAREFOOT IN THE CITY OF BROKEN DREAMS(Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years Book 2) – by Brent Hartinger

am

AMAZON SYNOPSIS: “There was no way moving to Los Angeles was going to make me give up my soul. After all, I’d already seen all the movies about Hollywood. I knew how things worked.”

Twenty-four year-old Russel Middebrook and his boyfriend have moved to Los Angeles so Russel can try to make it as a screenwriter.

Almost right away, in a forgotten old house off of Sunset Boulevard, Russel meets Isaac Brander, a once-famous film producer who is convinced he can turn Russel’s screenplay into a movie.

Russel knows that success can’t possibly come this easy. After all, most of Russel’s Los Angeles friends are so desperate to make it that it’s downright scary. His ex-boyfriend, Otto, is trying everything to become an actor, and Daniel, the sexy neighbor, doesn’t even need a casting couch to get naked.

So what’s the catch with Mr. Brander? Could it be that movies about Hollywood don’t tell the whole truth? But what does that mean for Russel’s soul?

REVIEW: Honestly, my feelings towards the book are that this is an excellent story of a young man’s struggle to become a writer in Hollywood… which is totally undermined by its connection to the Russ Middlebrook series.

The plot: Everything about it was so well researched, and well paced. The mystery behind Brander , the charismatic former producer offering Russel a deal that’s too good to be true, was intriguing, and it constantly threw new hooks and twists at me at the exact right moment that kept me reading on, leading to an excellent payoff that was  utterly inevitable and utterly gutting… if i actually had any investment in Russel’s dream as a screenwriter. Unfortunately, this is my first big problem which was caused by its connection to the main series.

Russel spent three books not showing any interest in writing, and he spent the entire previous book not being interested in writing until the final chapter where gay-icon-fairy-godmother Vernie tells him maybe he should become a writer.Not because he’s talented, but he’s special. Now writing’s his LIFE LONG DREAM (of five minutes) that he’ll risk EVERYTHING for. Yeah, this wasn’t well set up and that really undermined the story. My internal questioning of Russel and his screen writing desire felt a lot like this:

d6d60cec289ed63d8759d121ed48b503bacbad8a7340becbfed51bd252a6b448
Brick’s love of lamp… still more built up than Russel’s screenwriting career.

The fact that i enjoyed it in spite of this gaping flaw says a lot about its quality, especially since this book contains so many things that I couldn’t care less about. I couldn’t care less about old school Hollywood or the inumerous references he throws in. If i ever became Queen of the world, I would ban writers writing about writing, because a) you’re a writer, you can literally be anything or anyone and create whole new worlds, yet you chose to write about yourself. That is beyond unimaginative b) it always ends up feeling self indulgent. Always.

The Cast: The series has always been a slice of life romance at its heart, which focused on love, friendship,acceptance and Russel’s human relationships.This sadly, is where this book truly deviates from the series. This book focuses purely on Russel’s ambition, and not on any of his human relationships.  The biggest clue that this was never truly meant to be part of the series is the loss of Min (whom I love) and Gunnar (whom I hate- but I’ve learned to tolerate), his two most important friendships. Still, the other characters that were there were good (well, except for Love Interest Kevin who I’ll get to later).

The Otto sideplot was one of its strongest, and its only real spiritual connection this book had to the main series. When I was first introduced to Otto in The Order Of The Poison Oak, I thought he was just going to be the token non-conventional attractive love interest, there to teach us a lesson about looks not being everything … before we go back to fantasizing about the good looking ripped, macho baseball stud.

Okay, Otto is completely the token not hot love interest (like hell was he ever going to be the series love interest over sexy Kevin), but he’s proven to be so much more. He’s funny, confident in who he is and more level headed than our melodramatic protagonist.

In all honestly, I wish we were reading about him. Unlike Russel, who is hot, has great friends, a ridiculously loyal and perfect boyfriend and was able to get a great place to live as soon as he left college and yet still moans about his non problems more than Louis from Interview With The Vampire, Otto has genuine problems. He has double minority status as a gay man and a disabled man, and his scar seriously affects his career choices and (it’s implied) his ability to date.

His struggle to become an actor in spite of the prejudice faced by someone who’s physically scarred was brilliant, heart wrenching (in spite of seeming kind of random) and extremely nuanced. It would have been so easy to paint the Hollywood casting agents who reject him as big , prejudiced monsters, but it didn’t; in one excellent speech, it showed us that even if the prejudice they were perpetuating was wrong, the dog eat dog nature of the Hollywood system meant that doing the right thing could lead to career suicide . The way that Otto dealt with the prejudice and came into his own was clever and realistic.

The story of his lesbian screenwriter and comedian neighbors was really well done, too. They provided a perfect foil to Kevin and Russel’s dilemna, and their resolve at the end was extremely realistic. Again- they were characters belonging to a standalone novel- cogs used to highlight the dangers of the Hollywood culture, not actual characters in their own right the same way Vernie or Min were, but that’s okay. They were still interesting and well utilized.

The weak link in subplots sadly, was the  Daniel side plot which is a shame because it had such a strong start. It spent so much time developing him and his sexy, fascinating (boner inducing) mind games, and I was hooked every scene and intrigued where this was going- but then the payoff was rushed. I would have loved to have seen this developed, as the sexually charged power play between him and the leads was fascinating and I’m not going lie, really, really hot. The sexy Latino is a bit of a dubious stereotype, but considering Hartingers record of writing strong POC (especially Min, whom I miss), I’m willing to give him a pass (this time) and say this was just… unfortunate.

The Protagonist: Now we get to the biggest problem with this book. Russel Middlebrook. I could forgive his random desire to become a screen writer if he was a somewhat likable character. But he’s not, he’s really not. He’s completely self absorbed and makes everything about him and treats his boyfriend like crap.

Kevin is reduced from fully realized character to passive supportive partner- the sweet partner who’s happy to smile at the sidelines, rearrange their whole life and sacrifice their dreams for their lover and require no sacrifices in return. He gives up everything for Russel, sacrificing his career for Russel, yet Russel shows a complete disinterest in any of Kevin’s struggles throughout the entire book. This is ironic, considering Russel wants to write a screenplay about the true nature of gay love, and yet he keeps on neglecting his actual gay love.

Okay, the book does acknowledge that Russel has been awful and has him apologize to Kevin for his appalling behavior at the end, but he still doesn’t really learn or change. And how much he doesn’t change is exemplified at the end, which is a minor spoiler, so if you want to go into this blind, skip to the next paragraph.

SPOILER The epitomy of how self involved Russel has become was the proposal. This should have been a moment about the two of them, how far they’ve come, and for the old Russ- the Russ of the Geography Club- it would have been. But it wasn’t. First, he proposed to Kevin on the Hollywood sign- something that’s his passion, not Kevin’s, as Kevin made clear he didn’t enjoy life in Hollywood. Regardless of whether he says ‘who cares?’ about what movie was shot there, which is supposed to show that he’s moved on from his obsessing about Hollywood over. Even if And his final reflection? After he proposed he wasn’t focusing on Kevin’s sacrifices, his future with Kevin, the life they could lead. It was all about Russel. Russel’s journey, Russel’s dream- Kevin barely even featured into it- he said a half hearted few lines of dialogue.  This is something I could tolerate in a standalone, if Kevin had just been a flat love interest from the start, but he wasn’t. He was a long established character. I honestly can’t think of any reason that Kevin is with Russel, except main character privilege.

I could tolerate this if he was developing into a less selfish person . Russel doesn’t learn! At the end of the last book, he made Gunnar’s emotional heart break about SPOILER his dad’s cancer diagnoses about himself and his issues finding himself. He hasn’t changed in this one, and i doubt if it will change in the final one. It’s also a problem, because Russel and Kevin are moving to a place of greater commitment and yet I don’t know why Kevin gives Russel the time of day.

This is a great shame, because of how likable Russel was in the original series. He actually took time to listen to other people’s issues and he could be blinded by his own self absorption, but he’d always learn and try and become more understanding. Now, he listens to other people- not because he wants to understand them, but because of what their problems can teach him about his (more privileged) life . He’s actually regressed as a character- he’s more selfish, more self absorbed, less empathetic; he actually has a few issues of internalized homophobia or effeminaphobia that weren’t present as a teenager… which doesn’t necessarily make a bad character. In fact, he is very human and he could have made an excellent character if either he really learned and developed, or we weren’t supposed to like him. Unfortunately, because we’re meant to route for him to achieve his ‘dream’ of becoming a screenwriter (ugh), his unlikability made it hard for me to route for him.

Verdict: As much as Russel and his tacked on dream frustrated me, this is still a very well written story about a struggling screenwriter, and as usual Hartinger creates excellent side characters. If you haven’t read any of the previous novels, I would definately pick this up because this is much more enjoyable as a stand alone than a Russ Middlebrook novel. If you’ve already read the series and you didn’t hate the new Russel in the previous books than still pick this up. Even if for no other reason than to say you’ve completed the series.

 

 

REVIEW: THE PERILOUS LIFE OF JADE YEO- by Zen Cho

For writer Jade Yeo, the Roaring Twenties are coming in with more of a purr. She’s perfectly happy making a living by churning out articles on what the well-dressed woman is wearing. But when she pillories one of London’s leading literary luminaries in a scathing review, she may have made the mistake of her career.

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is a brilliant novella, that tells a complete and entertaining Austen-esque story in a relatively short space of time. Jade Yeo (or Geok Huay- the real name she anglicised in order to avoid the bane of the people around her failing to pronounce it) and her lively narrative is what makes this story such a joy to read.Her personality is a combination of Lizzie Bennet, Emma Woodhouse and Cecilly from The Importance of Being Earnest mixed into one. Only, Jade Yeo messes up more and goes further down the path of a fallen women than censors would allow. This combination of Jade Austen style genteel wit and language and detailed descriptions of sex (which she records in her diary in case she will ‘never engage in the activity again’ and has to ‘go off this recollection of it for the rest of [her] life.’) are hilarious: Continue reading REVIEW: THE PERILOUS LIFE OF JADE YEO- by Zen Cho

REVIEW:THE SAMURAI’S GARDEN- by Patricia Kiyono

Tanaka prepared for a life as a samurai warrior. But his world changed when Japan’s feudal system was abolished by the Emperor. Now, he must find a new vocation. Disillusioned with fighting and violence, he travels alone, going north to the island of Hokkaido. Many other samurai wander through the country and are known as ronin. Some have forsaken their honorable way to prey on the less fortunate.

Hanako Shimizu experienced first-hand the devastation caused by these disreputable wanderers. The previous winter, they raided her farm and killed her husband. Now, she needs to rebuild but has no money and no prospects — except for the dubious intentions of the town merchant.

When Hiro, tired of his wandering, encounters Hanako in the market, arguing with the merchant, he poses as her late husband’s cousin then offers to help her on the farm in exchange for a place to stay. Working on the land, Hiro finally finds the peace he has been seeking. But the reappearance of the rogue ronin, led by an unscrupulous leader from Hiro’s past, forces him to take up his swords again. But now, the stakes are higher.

‘But now the stakes are higher’.This sentence is misleading because this story has no stakes- and no real conflict. The Samurai’s Garden is warm, pleasant fluff; a cinderella story where a knight in shining armor rides into a poor woman’s life and sweeps her off her feet. Nothing causes any real problems in their life (except some contrived reasons about Hanako’s none existent ‘independence’ which only exists to delay their marriage),everyone is ridiculously nice, and the whole novel consists of Hiro serenading Hanako and essentially singing poems about his love of a simple domestic life. Continue reading REVIEW:THE SAMURAI’S GARDEN- by Patricia Kiyono