Jennifer E. Smith’s This Is What Happy Looks Like

Happy looks like sunrises over the harbor, ice cream on a hot day, the sound of the waves down the street, the way my dog curls up next to me on the couch, evening strolls, great movies, thunderstorms, a good cheese burger, Fridays, Saturdays, Wednesdays, sticking your toes in the water, pajama pants, flip-flops, swimming, poetry. What does it look like to you?

This is What Happy Looks Like

Ellie and Graham has been exchanging emails for a few months, sharing details about their lives, hopes, and dreams, but they don’t even know each other’s first name. Young movie star, Graham Larkin, jumps at an opportunity to visit the hometown of a girl he’s met on the internet to try to take their relationship from online to irl. Small-town girl, Ellie O’Niell, on the other hand, isn’t one to draw attention to herself. She’s been pretty content in the middle of nowhere with her mom and friends all her life; and besides, she’s got the summer poetry course at Harvard to worry about.

This is What Happy Looks Like is a young adult, romance novel from Jennifer E. Smith. Although I am generally not a fan of these kinds of fiction, the book is surprisingly not very difficult to get invested in. The peek into the online exchanges of Ellie and Graham, though nothing new, is a nice touch. The unsent drafts at the beginning of part 2 broke my heart. Smith did a great job with writing the characters, especially the mom; she, to me, was the most relatable. Smith’s descriptives and dialogue are consistently animated. I absolutely enjoyed the exchange between Ellie and her mother during the Fourth of July celebration.

Of the few things I thought the novel could’ve worked on was revealing how much exactly Ellie and Graham knew about each other before they met. Also, the writing, at times, especially in the first part, felt a little forced. Ellie’s appreciation for poetry, for example, just came out of nowhere and Graham’s reveal to Quinn was uneventful. Dividing the novel into two parts was unnecessary. I’m sure there would’ve been a more subtle way to show the passing of time. The plot, later, becomes a little too complicated and by then, all I wanted was for a denouement that didn’t call for some cheesy deus ex machina (which, thankfully, it didn’t).

This is What Happy Looks Like didn’t leave me with much, but that’s maybe because I’m not into the genre. It is a lighthearted, romance novel and for that, it is pretty good. It had me invested in the story and characters; and though a bit bland, it did have a satisfying ending. I honestly would pass on another Smith novel if something more my speed was available, but if you enjoy reading about young love and all its complications, the book is definitely worth picking up. There is also a sequel novella called Happy Again if you have read the book and are interested in more.

Josh Tierney’s Warm Blood

There is a killer at Greenwood High. His name is Logan Filigree. Who is the killer at Greenwood High?

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Warm Blood is an ongoing web comic by Josh Tierney. It features the art of Saskia Gutekunst, Joysuke, Jane Bak, Naomi Franquiz, Winston Young, Marina Julia, Leiana Nitura, Oliver Pichard, and many others. The story follows Penny in her first year at Greenwood High and a murder that coincidentally occurred the same day.

At a glance, the comic is very overwhelming. Between the constantly changing art style, choppy conversation, and confusing storytelling, the comic takes a little getting used to. Though the story and cast are very compelling, I found it hard to push past the first, few pages. However, after getting used to the complexities of the comic, I found myself itching to find why everyone is so indifferent to the murders.

For the few chapters already published, Warm Blood has a surprising amount of re-readability. There are barely enough clues to make sense of what is going on that I couldn’t help but to go over everything multiple times. There are also an enjoyable amount of pop culture within the dialogue and art. Most surprises come out the most innocent of panels. The amazing character design from Afu Chan, is also worth a mention seeing that the characters are still recognizable across the always changing art style.

With what’s published so far, Warm Blood is definitely worth reading. Though it takes a little something out of you just to get through the first few pages, the payoff of noticing something beyond the foreground is worth the time. You can start reading the web comic here.

Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library

The Strange Library is a short story by best-selling author, Haruki Murakami. The illustrated novel is about a boy who gets himself trapped inside a labyrinthine library. There, he meets a sheep-man and a girl who talks with her hands and they plan to escape the wicked librarian.

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The Strange Library is a relatively short story. I finished reading the book in little over an hour but it took me a while to really digest the story. It is filled with more than a handful of confusing parallelism. It’s a great story, in that it leaves readers with a lot to think about.

Though short, the book is incredibly descriptive for its length. The mood during my first read-through was really heavy. Murakami made sure the reader would share in the boy’s anxiety and confusion. The mood during succeeding reads however, becomes tamer as I was reading to find answers instead of delving into the story.

The book itself is strange. The novel is bound by flaps that open vertically and there was more than one type size and color throughout the book. In a way it is very refreshing, and it’s reminded me how I’ve forgotten how to read books with pictures. The version I have is the one designed by Chip Kidd. There is an edition with illustrations from Ted Gossen which I would very much like to read soon.

If you are familiar with Haruki Murakami’s quirky narrative style, then I would definitely recommend picking up this book. If you, however, can’t tough it through Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, or haven’t read any of his books yet, The Strange Library may not be the best novel to start with.

Marvel’s X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills

Published in 1982, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is the fifth of the Marvel Graphic Novel series. Written by Chris Claremont and Illustrated by Brent Anderson, the graphic novel is known for being the basis for X-Men 2003 sequel, X2.

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The X-Men series is no stranger to storylines that deal with discrimination toward mutant and inhumans. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills takes a religious perspective to the matter. Claremont and Anderson has created a tight-knit story in a little over 60 pages that features the struggles our mutant heroes have to face when confronted with a charismatic religious leader determined on eradicating all mutants.

The graphic novel was written over 30 years ago but the implications of prejudice and ignorance against minorities are still very real today. It’s sad to think that even after all the advancements humanity has achieved, this is one matter we can’t move past.

The art and imagery of the novel is very graphic, even by today’s standards. It shows domestic violence, racism, and various counts of theo-semantic imagery but all to outline the sad reality of racism and intolerance.

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is definitely worth a read. It is one of the many that prove comics as a viable medium in illustrating and addressing the more serious social matters of the world. Though some may claim the story one-sided, it does its job of putting into perspective the implications and consequences of discrimination and inequality. I hope for a future of coexistence where kids would read the novel and find it hard to imagine that such prejudice and hate were ever possible.

Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children follows the story of Jacob Portman and his journey to find out the truth behind his grandpa Abe’s last words and consequently, discover a reality behind the peculiar stories he’s been told when he was younger.

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Ransom Rigg’s first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is a relatively good read. It stands with an engaging concept but that’s all it had for the most part. It doesn’t try hard to push the story forward, which is good in terms of pacing but has resulted to dull moments.  Asymmetrically, there are scenes that were written very vividly; probably a result of Riggs having a background in film. I honestly had nightmares about the book.

The book is littered with creepy pictures and letters that set the tone of the story in a way. Ransom Riggs has created a wonderful world, the story is well set and consistent.

The film, diversely, is excessively different from the novel. Although Riggs has responded positively to the changes, there was one big issue for me. From the several trailers, I could tell that Jake would be paired with a girl with the peculiarity of air – Olive, in the novel. My heart dropped, however, when instead of switching Emma and Olive, what happened was they completely swapped peculiarities where, Emma was now the girl who was lighter than air and Olive was the pyromancer. Maybe it’s just me being too set on seeing the flame-wielding tsundere I had come to love in the novel.

There were also big changes to the story line that I think were unnecessary. The out-of-nowhere ending, kind of created more loose ends with all of Jake’s loop jumping and such.

The pace at the beginning of the film also set me off. Usually a movie’s pacing becomes tighter when being translated from a novel but, I felt the development at the introduction felt too sluggish. Yet the friends I watched the movie with, who haven’t read the book, thought it was a pretty good build-up.

Both the novel and the film for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, are equally satisfying in their respective rights. Although I do think the book made me more hyped to continue the series. I finished reading the book three weeks before the film came out and I would constantly catch myself reaching for the second book. It is definitely worth reading if you want to go on a fantastic, peculiar journey.

DC’s Batman: The Killing Joke

Batman: The Killing Joke is a one-shot graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland. It is a classic story that boldly exhibits the relationship of The Dark Knight and The Clown Prince. Joker is undoubtedly one of the best villains in comics and this novel is one of the best stories he’s in.
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All it takes is one bad day for anyone in the world to crack. The Joker believes in this greatly and he’s determined to prove it to Gotham’s justice system by taking Commissioner Jim Gordon and giving him that one bad day. Enlightened as it is, there are several controversies surrounding the almost 30 year-old graphic novel. There have been several theories about how the book ended and whether Batman really did kill the joker in this story. You can learn more about this controversy from a video from NerdSync.

Though the fans may be on the fence about the ending, it is an undeniably amazing story. The writing is excellent. The Joker’s monologues are very memorable. One of my favorites is the horrifyingly creative, pun-filled speech where he akins Barbara Gordon to an old library book. The art is morbidly detailed in every sense.

An animated film adaptation of the story was premiered in select theaters on the 25th and 26th of July. The BluRay was released earlier this month. The film is scarily accurate with the graphic novel. In classical Warner Brothers fashion, the animation and the art is fluid.

I highly recommend getting a copy of either the book or the film. Both fans and newcomers to the series are sure enjoy this beautifully written one-shot. It presents an insightful argument about what it is to be insane. It is a relatively short read, but it is one that will never leave you.

Joan Lowery Nixon’s The House On Hackman’s Hill

I recently came across an MTV post (yes, that MTV) about mystery books that kept you up in your elementary days. I guess they were trying to reach out to the MTV generation through a nostalgia card, but I haven’t read any one of the books in the list. What I remember reading in my middle school days was the Bailey School Kids Adventures and not one title from the series popped up in the list; one book, however, got my attention. The House on Hackman’s Hill by Joan Lowery Nixon was a book I remember having seen in my gran’s house.

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The House on Hackman’s Hill, originally published in 1985, is a relatively short read. It is about cousins, Debbie and Jeff, as they go in search of the missing mummy of the Hackman House. The introduction gave me little motivation to keep reading; on the contrary, it became somewhat of a spoiler. It does pickup, however, as Mr. Karsten talked about his experiences at the Hackman House. And in a very satisfying way, the story comes full circle as the cousins relive the experiences of Mr. Karsten in the scary house.

One thing I did not appreciate was the shift of storytelling from third to first person by switching to the recounting of Mr. Karsten. I felt like it kind of cheated in terms of writing but it did create a more solid setting for the story in the process.

The House on Hackman’s Hill is a very good read for what it is. If you go into it without forgetting that it is a children’s horror-mystery novel, you will definitely have a good time. It does get a bit cheesy in some parts, but I believe that’s part of the appeal. Now, I’ve never read the book in middle school, but if I did, I’m sure it would have been a more substantial (re-)read.

Marvel’s Powerless

Earth 40081, as told from the perspective of Dr. William Watts, has become a confusing place since he has awakened from a three-day coma. He recounts vivid dreams he’s had in his coma and it confuses him of what is real and what isn’t.

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Written by Matt Cherniss and Peter Johnson and penciled by Michael Gaydos, Powerless is a six issue series that ran from 2004-2005. It tells the story of Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, and Logan but not as you know them. The story is set in a universe where there are no superpowers.

Right away the characters are presented in a way that they are distant from themselves. They act exactly the opposite way the reader expects them to. This awkwardness, at the same time, distances the readers from the main characters. Initially the story plays on the confusion of the reader to create a connection with the protagonist, Dr. Watts.

The series does become more interesting a main conflict and plot is introduced in the succeeding issues. By the fifth issue, however, the story is still partly building up the story; I half-expected the ending to be rushed and unsatisfying. On the contrary, the sixth installment tied up all three characters’ stories well while revealing a fairly surprising twist. The writers used cliffhangers and unexpected twists effectively to pique the interest of any long time Marvel fan.

The art is dark and gritty throughout the series, supporting the deep and high-tension story line. The comic does a great job of solidifying a world where our favorite protagonists existed without their superhuman capabilities. The six-issue read is definitely worth a go. It is something refreshing without being too different from your action-packed usuals.

Clara Vidal’s Like A Thorn

I recently decided to spend some time at my mom’s place for the past week for a change in pace. I thought I could get some writing done without my usual distractions but found new ones instead. One particular thing that caught my attention was Like a Thorn by Clara Vidal. I remember picking up the book during my first year of college at a used-book store. I didn’t think much of it during my first read-through; now, having met with people who suffer from mental health issues, I’ve gained a newfound respect and appreciation for the book.

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The story is about Melie’s decadence into mental depression and serious obsessive compulsive disorder. The story of her confusion, fear, and unhappiness is beautifully crafted. Vidal slowly lures you in with curiosity and concern for Melie and then suddenly drops you in a maze of hopelessness and confusion when you least expect it.  It has several fits of ups and downs; giving you a light of hope one moment, then crushing it the next.

Like A Thorn is a book about the fear and confusion of growing up knowing that something is wrong but not knowing what. It is an outstanding read, but it is not very pleasant. The book subtly emphasizes of taking mental illnesses seriously, no matter the case.

Very recently, an initiative by the Philippine Psychiatric Association was started in order to protect the rights of the people with mental disabilities by petitioning the passing of Senate Bill 2450 Mental Health Act. The cause is supported by various personalities including RA Rivera, Rico Blanco, Jasmine Curtis Smith, and Agot Isidro. Visit MHActnow.org to learn more.

I highly recommend the Like A Thorn if you want a peek into the mind of someone who is struggling with mental issues. I believe it is one of the more effective ways of spreading awareness about the mental disabilities.

Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men

As far as superheroes go, I’ve always been a fan of The X-Men. I remember watching several airings of the original X-Men Animated Series and X-Men: Evolution as a kid. The concept of becoming a part of a superhero team was one I would spend my childhood dreaming about.

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As I grew up, my fondness toward the X-Men would subside, but not completely. I would still passively obsess over Marvel video games, or the occasional action figure that would feature them, but that’s as far as it would go.

I primarily blame the inaccessibility of Marvel reading materials before the rise to fame of the MCU, for me missing out on some major X-Men events. Although there are fora and free issues online, I wasn’t able to keep track of my favorite superhero team as closely as would’ve liked.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to really get into comics. Of the first series I got into was Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men.

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Just like what Kitty Pride’s first panel states, Nothing has changed. Shadowcat returns to the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters as Miss Pryde, Computational Theory Professor and Student Adviser. It feels very familiar to the X-Men I grew up with, without it being exactly the same.

Off the bat, Whedon gives readers that banter-style character and relationship development. It’s always been a treat to behold Whedon’s work. I’ve grown up watching the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, and I’m sure everyone’s seen the Avengers films. I know I wouldn’t be alone when I say his story telling methods are outstanding. True to his fan boy self, there are more than a few fan service references throughout this series; even way before half of the first issue.

The series was first published in 2004 and I wouldn’t be talking about it if it wasn’t that good. Whedon has an amazing story arc that will reintroduce old fans and new readers to the X-Men. It’s an amazing jumping on point for people who are looking to get into X-Men comic books. It is also a great nostalgic volume for long-time fans of my favorite mutant team. Cassady’s art is just what the doctor’s ordered for this amazing series. His art style is fun but not under-detailed.

Although a bit dated, this is still the series I recommend whenever I get asked about getting into comics.

This Saturday, as with all first Saturdays of May, is Free Comic Book Day. Be sure to check around the web to know which of your local comic book stores will be celebrating the event so you can celebrate with them! There are a lot more to each superhero than what producers can fit into each TV series or film; and if you’ve enjoyed watching them, chances are, you’ll enjoy reading about them as well.

It might seem intimidating and arduous, but there are various ways of getting involved in comic books. There are sites where you can read online copies for free, there are also local store which carry current and past comic book issues, and of course there is a vast community of new as well as veteran readers and collectors who can help you along your way.

This year, I’ll be spending free comic book day at the Alabang branch of Comic Odyssey. Some great on-going series to look out for include, All-New Wolverine, Amazing Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, and Extraordinary X-Men.