The Flash Gets Magical & Arrow Continues To Change It Up

After the many changes happening over with the Arrow team, and Supergirl finally getting its Superman, it looks like The Flash doesn't want to be left behind.

Just announced, The Flash gets a new series regular in Tom Felton. What's that you say? The name sounds familiar? It should! He found his star when he was cast as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films.

He'll be playing a character called Julian Dorn, a CSI at the Central City Police Department who becomes suspicious of Barry Allen. That's all we know right now. We should note that this isn't Tom Felton first time on TV,  he's also worked on Murder in the First and Full Circle. It will be interesting to see what he brings to cast especially since season three is going to deal with some major fallout from Barry's decision to save his mother. 

Arrow continues to add to season 5's lineup, with the latest addition being Carly Pope as Susan Williams, a Coast City reporter who, in the comic was married to Hal Jordon's brother. That's right, we might have a Green Lantern connection in the Arrowverse! Susan Williams will be going after Oliver Queen for a big story. Carly Pope will appear in the third episode of Arrow's season 5. No telling how long she'll be staying. 

And yet another recurring addition to Arrow is Tyler Ritter as Detective Malone, who replaces Captain Lance, since the last we saw of Paul Blackthorn's character was him "riding into the sunset" with Felicity's mother. However, Paul Blackthorn is still a series regular, so he's not gone for good. 

What do you think of the new casting news in the Berlantiverse?

Ivonne Martin is a writer, gamer, and avid consumer of all things geek—and is probably entirely too verbose for her own good.

We're Only Human: Ultimates #8 Recap

Once again, I suspect the main question on everyone's mind upon seeing the cover is how connected the comic is to 2016's most annoying event. And the answer is... a little bit?

Look, unlike New Avengers #12, which takes place before the whole mess even begins to unfold, this comic is tied directly to a central event from Civil War II #1... I'm sorry, I meant "a central event from the comic that was actually cut from it and at the time only available a month before for a single day and only became available digitally a goddamn week after the comic came out" (I'm still a tad baffled by that publishing decision). The point is, a portion of the comic is devoted to preparing for Thanos' arrival and most of it is devoted to the fallout from the fight. So the setup is much more connected to the main event this time around. But judging from the solicitations for the next three issues of Ultimates, Al Ewing seems to be doing his own thing. So I guess you can safely read this comic. Prepare for a lot of feels though.


Captain Marvel shut down a Cosmic Cube-related project at the research facility Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. after a Shi'ar Empire official tries to use it as leverage in intergalactic politics against Earth. Unfortunately for him, before he can properly use it, Thanos attacks his space station, slaughters everyone in his way and politely asks for information on that Cosmic Cube he was talking about. Meanwhile Captain Marvel is contacted by Medusa of the Inhumans, who asks for her assistance.


While events surrounding the Thanos attack are the major part of the issue, we begin quite a while earlier, before the first – at the start of the team. As it turns out, it was Carol Danvers’ idea to form "the ultimate team for ultimate problems." This ends up fleshing out Carol’s position in this brewing conflict – it’s not just Lifebringer’s little timestream demonstration three issues back that got her desperate for a flawless method of predicting coming threats. She’s been worried about an annihilation level event for a while now, and that’s where the idea for proactive task force that would find and fix problems before they got too big to handle. Now if only Bendis had similar skill of character writing...

So she starts her recruitment, first going to Black Panther – because if you’re about to start a very high tech project, having the ruler of the world’s most highly advanced countries definitely helps. T’Challa suggests Blue Marvel, to Brashear’s surprise – the two of them aren’t exactly friends. I personally suspect Adam’s speech in the Last Days issue of Captain America and the Mighty Avengers stuck with T’Challa, dismissive though he was at the time.

Adam suggests an old friend from Ewing’s Mighty Avengers run, Monica "Spectrum" Rambeau, who in turn proposes America Chavez. And that’s how everyone got together. And, before we go any further, I have to mention that I like how Ewing handled introduction of both New Avengers and Ultimates, starting with the teams already formed and not bothering with an introductory of how everyone got together.

Unfortunately for the Ultimates, their forming draws the attention of the U.S. National Security Council – basically a group of distrustful older white men, most of whom really don’t like the idea of this new team. And some of them are pricks about it.

Shut up, Arnold.

Anyway, they want to keep a close eye on the Ultimates. And to do that, they turn to the NSA – and more specifically, the mysterious Philip Nelson Vogt and his team of troubleshooters. We don’t see anything of this team, but they are very resourceful. Later in the issue, when the same group is discussing the fallout from the Thanos fight, they somehow managed to bypass SHIELD and Wakandan technology to get the information in question. I can’t wait to see them.

But let’s get back to the meat of the issue – the events surrounding the Thanos fight. We cut from shadowy meeting to the meeting Medusa of the Inhumans requested. Ulysses the Clairvoyant Inhuman is telling them about the arrival of Thanos. Carol recognizes from his description of what will happen that he’s coming to Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S., and they evacuate the entire personnel, leaving only Live Model Decoys to make it seem like everyone’s there, working and unaware of what’s coming. The Ultimates, Medusa’s Inhumans, Rhodey and A-Force are waiting there and discuss strategy, with Monica in charge of it. She notes that while they’re all professionals, not all of them have actually worked together before. It’s crucial they don’t step on each other’s toes, and if there’s even a single slip…

Yeah. Not Al’s fault, since he worked with what he got. Still hurts.

After the fight, Maria Hill (in what is her most compassionate appearance ever) debriefs Carol, telling her she talked with Rhodey’s mom (Jesus, the poor woman) and wasn’t able to reach Tony, so she left that information with his people.

Meanwhile the rest of the team is taking it badly, especially America Chavez, who doesn’t even talk to anyone, instead focusing on her phone and conversation with her paramedic girlfriend. Everyone is blaming themselves for Rhodey’s death, but no one blames themselves as much as Monica. It was her strategy, and, as she points out, she can move with the speed of light, so she could’ve fried Thanos’s brain and saved everyone. Adam comforts her by saying that she isn’t just light – she’s a human being, with human thoughts and human reactions. And sometimes they all fail.

Their moment is interrupted by Tony Stark’s arrival, with him blaming Carol and the Ultimates for Rhodey’s death.

Back in the U.S. National Security Council, Vogt is reporting the events of the day. He’ll continue monitoring for any event the team might crack under the weight of Rhodey’s death. But at least he’s positive Thanos is completely off the board.

Yep, that’s one defeated foe right there.

Next month, we’ll cover another Civil War II tie-ins – two New Avengers issues and one Ultimates issue.

Dominik Zine is a nerdy lad from northeastern Poland and is generally found in a comfy chair with a book in hand.

Life With Kevin #1: Better Than Full House (Or Fuller House, For That Matter)

Archie Comics' first LGBT character gets another miniseries!

I have to be honest about something. With the excellent quality of the rebooted Archie universe and the genuinely horrifying “Archie Horror” lineup, I had forgotten just how, well, cheesy the original universe could be. Ridiculously easy solutions to tough problems, black-and-white morality, recycled plots... Basically, an especially bad nineties sitcom in comic form. Let me put it this way: if the upcoming television adaptation was made in the nineties, it would have a goofy theme song and the fakest canned laugh track to ever grace the small screen.

To Dan Parent’s credit, Life With Kevin #1 is fairly good. It’s just that the comic’s tone was unexpected, after months of only reading comics from the company in a particular way. It is interesting to see one variation on Kevin and Veronica’s future lives, even if the exposition is somewhat shoe-horned. Certain moments were slightly too goofy for me, such as Kevin dancing around his new apartment before realizing that his mom hasn’t left yet. Still, not too bad in the grand scheme of things.

I do like the elements of realism in the series. Kevin quickly learns that it’s not as easy to live in New York as it seems. Additionally, I enjoyed the scenes taking place at the television studio. It’s also interesting to see the different writing styles that come with writing for an older version of an Archie character. Characters can reference the Saw movies and even—gasp—say mildly offensive words!

All in all, I believe that I’m being too hard on it. Life With Kevin #1 is a breath of fresh air in contrast to all of the horrible events in the news. Inoffensive, happy, and lighthearted, it’s sure to brighten up your day. As long as you know beforehand that the tone is different, you’ll be fine.

Zachary Krishef is an evil genius. Do not question his knowledge of Saturday Night Live trivia or the Harry Potter books.

8 Reasons You Should Watch Voltron: Legendary Defender

On June 10 Netflix released their new animated show – a reboot of the classic cartoon Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Titled Voltron: Legendary Defender, it tells the story of a group of humans who discover a giant blue robot lion – and with it, they find out it’s part of the only weapon in the Galaxy capable of defeating the millennia old conqueror, Zarkon, and his Galra empire. The Blue Lion, along with its four differently colored counterparts (Yellow, Green, Red and Black) are used to form Voltron – a powerful giant robot and the only thing standing between Zarkon and total domination. The humans become Paladins, defenders of the universe fighting this threat.

Being a Netflix show, all episodes are available right now – and here are some reason why you should watch them as soon as possible.

1. It’s made by people who worked on Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra

Avatar is often held as one of first cartoons of the current Golden Age of Animation, and as one of the best shows ever. Its sequel series, after a bumpy first half, reached the same heights and manage to differentiate itself from its predecessor to stand on its own.

While both shows’ creators, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, have for the time taken a hiatus from animations in favor of personal projects, their team is still busy at work. And Voltron: Legendary Defender is their new work – and more specifically, Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery’s, the show’s creators. Both are veteran directors and storyboard artists who, aside from the Avatarverse shows, have worked on many other cartoons and animated features over the years. Dos Santos directed half of the beloved Justice League Unlimited and is praised for his mastery of fight sequences. Montgomery meanwhile directed or co-directed most of DC’s early animated movies, from the famous Wonder Woman movie to Green Lantern: First Flight, and has also worked on the deeply missed Young Justice show.

Add the fact that they’re working with the Korean Studio Mir that was in charge of the Avatarverse TV shows, and you’ve got an all-star team working on a reimagining of a classic cartoon.

2. Consequently, it has fantastic action sequences

Avatar and Korra were praised for their storytelling, character writing, world building – and action sequences. Not surprising, considering their creative team consisted of a guy nicknamed Dr. Fight and a woman who directed a movie with this glorious battle.

Now, the fight sequences in Voltron aren’t as clever and creative as the Avatarverse shows. But that’s to be expected, considering the latter feature people controlling the four elements. They still are awe inspiring, whether we have the space battles, hand to hand combat, laser shootouts, or the titanic battles fought every time the Paladins form Voltron itself.

3. Princess Allura is completely boss

The Paladins aren’t the only main characters of the show. As soon as they make their first wormhole jump, they meet two survivors of the species that created Voltron: Princess Allura and Coran. They’ve been in stasis for ten thousand years, since Zarkon entirely defeated their kind. With no choice but to entrust the five humans with the only weapon to defeat him, they join forces and take lead in the rebellion.

Allura is simply stellar. Voiced by Kimberly Brooks (who also lent her voice to Steven Universe’s Jasper and Mass Effect’s Ashley Williams, among others), she’s an unquestionable leader of the team and the closest to a main character Legendary Defender has. She’s a fun yet complex character, a rare WOC in charge that needs to be celebrated. While most of the cast gets developed over the course of the season, she’s the one who gets the most focus except for the one I mention below.

4. Pidge is simply amazing (in a spoilerific way)

The other MVP of the show is Pidge Gunderson, voiced by Bex Taylor-Klaus – and, sadly, the only character I can’t talk much about. Pidge is basically a walking spoiler, and if I talk any longer, I will ruin everything for you. Suffice it to say, there’s a certain moment at the end of episode 3 that will make you look at that character differently – in a positive way.

5. Actually, all the other characters are great

While Allura and Pidge are the most praiseworthy, by the end of the season I enjoyed every single one of the main characters. Shiro (voiced by Josh Keaton) is somewhere between Captain America and the Winter Soldier, sharing an almost legendary in-universe status and leadership skill with the former, and the tortured past and cybernetic arm with the latter. And for a stoic leader, like Steven Universe’s Garnet, he’s unusually playful. Hunk (voiced by Tyler Labine) seems like the weak point of the team at first, but quickly reveals amazing technological know-how. And as the season goes, he’s the one that probably grows the most, while still remaining the same character we meet early on. Coran (voiced by Rhys Darby), Allura’s servant and her de facto second-in-command, starts out seeming like an example of the „small name, big ego, great cowardice” so-called comic relief. But instead, he quickly reveals to be very competent and knowledgeable about Voltron, Paladin training rigor, and the Castle of Lions, the team’s base of operations.

Out of those seven characters, the only ones you could argue don’t grow that much are Lance (voiced by Jeremy Shada) and Keith (voiced by Steven Yeun). The former remains the „what if you combined Sokka from Avatar and Finn from Adventure Time” character he starts as, while Keith is still the hot-blooded loner. What happens instead is a change of relationship between the two, with the pretty one-sided rivalry becoming an actual friendship.

Add the fact that only two main characters (Pidge and Coran) are white, and you’ve got a diverse and fun group of characters to follow the adventures of.

6. It’s incredibly creative with its alien designs

Speaking of diverse! One of the advantages of animated shows over live action ones is that as long as it looks good within a chosen style, you can do anything you want. Add the immense creativity this team has shown in the Avatarverse show with animals and spirits – and you’ve got some of the most interesting alien designs in history of animated space opera. Arusians and Balmerans, who we get to see the most over the course of the season (the latter is shown in the GIF above) are especially well created. Especially if you note how the difference between male and female members of those species look like, without the typical „weird-looking males, basically human-like female” crap that generally happens.

7. It’s taking advantage of Netflix's release method

While I haven’t seen the original Voltron, reading about it reveals a show similar to its contemporary rivals, very episodic in nature, with often reused animation. That’s not to say I think it was terrible – merely that with the budgets cartoon teams at the time had, it was common to fall back on a formula that worked, with an enemy of the week type of storytelling instead of something more long-form.

Instead, Legendary Defender takes advantage of the changes in cartoon-making that happened over the years, and especially of the Netflix release model. If all 11 episodes (with the first one the length of three regular ones) are available on the same day, why make it completely episodic? Thus we’ve got longer arcs, with a couple breather episodes between them, and whenever a giant monster appears to challenge Voltron, it’s a pretty big deal since the Paladins don’t defeat a similar one every episodes. Heck, the giant robot itself isn’t formed every episode – while still appearing often enough that you’re not left wondering why the show is titled Voltron.

8. It has this scene

Any show that has a scene like that is honestly a must-watch. QED.

Dominik Zine is a nerdy lad from northeastern Poland and is generally found in a comfy chair with a book in hand.

Steam Summer Picnic Sale Recommendations

If you are like us, you might be addicted to Steam sales. There's the thrill of the hunt as you find great games for great prices. We're here to point you in the right direction, brave hunter.

My absolute top recommendation for today is This War of Mine. If you haven’t played this game, you need to. It’s hard to pin the genre on this one. It combines elements of survival and strategy in a glorious mashup that's unlike any other game I’ve played before. In most games you play the hero leading the charge with guns blazing; in this game you play as a group of civilians just trying to survive a war. You have to survive through lack of food, lack of medicine, and with hostile soldiers and even other survivors trying to kill you. You can craft items and scavenge for stuff, so it bears a greater resemblance to a survival game in that regard. Graphically, it’s a side-scrolling game in the vein of Mark of the Ninja, so not my usual cup of tea, but the gameplay and concept are just so awesome. It is available now for $4.99. (Ivonne Martin)

My recommendation is Gone Home: a first-person, story-focused exploration game set in the 90s. The story centers on teenager Samantha, but you play as her older sister Kaitlin, who has just come home from traveling the world. The whole game takes place in the same house, where you walk around exploring, looking at objects and getting glimpses of the lives lived there. It plays rather like a detective story, where clues spread throughout the house add together to tell you about people and events. Some information you get simply by turning things over and reading notes, but certain objects also trigger journal entries by Sam, addressed to Kaitlin, which are read aloud to you while you continue playing (or stop to listen, if you prefer that). At the heart of the story is Sam’s relationship to a girl called Lonnie, but you also get to know what Sam’s life was before meeting Lonnie, and a little about the parents’ hopes and disappointments. The level of detail is outstanding: from boxes of photocopied zines to X-Files posters; from pamphlets of the mother’s forest conservation agency to empty pizza boxes with fat stains on the lid. The riot grrrl-heavy soundtrack (largely provided through in-game cassette tapes) is also great, and connects wonderfully with the story. Gone Home is 80% (!) off during the summer sale, so it’s currently $3.99.

My second recommendation is The Stanley Parable. The easiest way to describe this game is as an 1.5 hours long mind-fuck. Though the play-time depends on how you play it, and in fact you can spend very different amounts of time on the game... But explaining why would spoil it. As would most things I could tell you about the game. Sorry! Similarly to Gone Home, this is a game that focuses on experience rather than problem-solving, though here it’s more about raising questions and making you think than about telling a story. It’s not a soothing game, and it doesn’t give you the satisfaction of a neatly tied-up ending or clear tasks to finish—but it’s clever and, occasionally, riotously funny. I'd recommend The Stanley Parable to people who enjoy walking simulators, philosophy, or absurdity—or all of those things. It also seems to be especially entertaining if you've played a lot of video or computer games before, which I discovered while discussing the game with my friend who's a more experienced gamer (let's just say there were some jokes and clever references I didn't get). The usual price may be a little steep for such a short game but its current price of $2.99 is definitely worth it. (Tova Crossler Ernström)

I’m going to go with a really obvious choice: Lego Marvel Super Heroes. While the mechanics are at an "all-ages" level of simplistic, it doesn’t stop this game from being absolutely delightful. It has a fun storyline that skillfully incorporates most of the main aspects of the Marvel Universe from New York to Latveria to Asteroid M. It also has a massive roster of over 150 characters, with all the major heroes and villains from the MCU movies in addition to many of those from the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man comics. In addition to the story mode, you get a massive open world in the form of a Marvel-ized version of Manhattan, with side-quests and races aplenty.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this game for any fan of Marvel or Lego, and very highly for a fan of both, such as myself. It, as well as another ten games in the Lego series, is discounted by 75% at $4.99. (Aranwe Quirke)

If you're like me, you like hard games. These games aren't so punishing that they're unenjoyable. The Dark Souls series challenges you by stripping away gameplay mechanics that we take for granted today. The first entry in the series, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition ($4.99) is a steal. Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin ($13.59) and the critically-acclaimed Dark Souls III ($44.99) are also not to be missed.

I also recommend The Long Dark ($6.79), a first-person survival game that does not feature zombies! The game is presently in Early Access, currently featuring a sandbox mode: you’ve crash landed in the Canadian wilderness after a worldwide geomagnetic storm knocks out all electrical devices; no hope of rescue, you must survive the cold, stave off starvation, and avoid hostile wildlife. Two story modes are being developed, featuring both a female and male protagonists.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown, where you can play dolls with your soldiers, just like I do

Darkest Dungeon ($14.99), as described by the developers, is about making the best of a bad situation, and probably the most punishing of my recommendations. XCOM Enemy Unknown ($7.49) is a very addictive turn-based strategy game which, among many other positive reasons, is popular for how you can play "paper dolls" with your soldiers, not only changing their appearance, but also their nationality, voice accents, and gender-neutral body armor. Lastly, if you don’t already have Tomb Raider ($4.99), what are you even doing. (Adrian Martinez)

Previously on Killjoys

2015, among other things, was the year Syfy finally returned to what they should’ve been doing all those years since Battlestar Galactica ended – proper sci-fi/fantasy programming. The Expanse is obviously the best example of that, but it also includes shows like Dark Matter, 12 Monkeys and Killjoys, which returns on July 1.

Created by Michelle Lovretta of Lost Girl fame and co-produced with Canadian TV channel Space, Killjoys is a space opera about a trio of titular Killjoys. This is a derogatory term used for agents of a politically neutral Reclamation Acquisition Coalition (RAC – basically a bounty hunters guild), operating in a solar system with four inhabited worlds known as the Quad. They travel the system in the AI-operated ship Lucy, collect warrants and generally try to have a life in a territory divided by social standing and background.

Killjoys is not a terribly smart show. It’s not The Expanse, Orphan Black, or Person of Interest, which I recently finished recapping for Critical Writ. But it’s a fun ride with enjoyable character, especially for people who’d like more of that Guardians of the Galaxy flavor until Volume 2 hits the entire world and those who miss Firefly.

The show’s main character and the team’s leader is Dutch, played by Hannah John-Kamen. Dutch is a girl (of color!) with a dark and troubled past, which first season mostly untangled. Trained to be an assassin by the enigmatic Khlyen since she was eight, she’s tried to escape her mentor, only to have recent events draw his attention back to her.

She ends up drawing her teammates into her problems - Johnny Jaqobis (played by Aaron Ashmore, the most Chris Pratty actor available in Canada) and his older brother D’Avin (played by Luke Macfarlane). Johnny is Dutch’s longtime partner in RAC activities and they have a close sibling like relationship. It’s actually a great example of a male-female friendship – including a fantastic moment that’s connected to a scene between the two Jaqobis’ in the pilot. Having just joined the crew, D’Avin tells his brother that Dutch is definitely hiding something. This was right after she discovered Khlyen returned to her life, so a viewer experienced in TV drama would suspect a standard reveal procedure – character doesn’t know their friend’s dark secret, friend is forced to reveal it, drama ensues. Except when Dutch is driven to asking her teammates for help, all she has to tell Johnny is that Khlyen found her – because she already told him about her past before the show’s start.

D’Avin is the last addition to the team – Johnny’s older brother who joined the army and left him to take care of their parents. Unlike the other two, he only becomes a RAC Agent over the course of the first half of the season, after he reappears in Johnny’s life. He’s suffering from PTSD and gaps in his memory related to his last military mission. Those, as we learn over the season, are thanks to taking part in a military experiment to create an obedient and ruthless soldier – which resulted in him killing his entire squad.

The Quad, where the action takes place, consists of an Earth-like planet Qresh and its three moons – Westerley, Leith and Arkyn. The first two of those satellites were terraformed successfully, while the third is deemed uninhabitable. It’s officially run by a morally ambigous Company, but as the nine largest Qreshi families are its only shareholders, they are the de facto rulers of the system. Leith is the system’s food source, while Westerley is a mining world, where most off-system immigrants arrive and is the most abused by the Company.

As is frankly obvious, Westerlyns are not happy with this arrangement, and the bone the Company tossed them (7th generation Westerlyns are allowed to move to Qresh and will be given land to farm) isn’t enough. Especially since due to the harsh conditions of Westerley, there’s no guarantee there will by a seventh generation in their family, and people who never farmed in their entire life aren’t exactly likely to make successful farmers. So naturally they rebelled – and the Company nuked the rebelling district, turning it into a set from a Mad Max movie (or Australia from Overwatch). That did not exactly calm everyone and tensions are still high.

So it doesn’t help that the Company arrests Alvis, a priest of a local religion, secret revolutionary and the team’s occasional ally, on drummed up charges. And the fact that the council of the Nine gathers up to vote on whether to actually allow 7th generation Westerlyns to move to Qresh. Meanwhile the team discovers Khlyen is a RAC official – and a Level 6 agent, which is supposed to be impossible. The rumours (which turn out to be true) have it that becoming Level 6 involves being experiment on, which includes numbing pain receptors.

Their attempts to kill him backfire and they end up in the mess happening on Westerley, forced to help their friends escape from a bombing of Oldtown ordered by the company. Meanwhile there’s a coup in the council, using a bloodline targeting weapon (discovered earlier in the season – it kills everyone sharing the same DNA), leaving only three families standing. And as Dutch discovers, Khlyen (and by extension, RAC) was involved in the coup.

In the entire mess, D’Avin catches sight of Khlyen and tries to follow him and take him out. Of course, he’s outclassed and taken prisoner. As the season ends, we learn he’s in a secret base Red 17 – on a supposedly unterraformed Arkyn.

So there’s a lot the new season will have to deal with – the team lookimg for D’Avin, the political mess of the Quad, and the fight against Khlyen. We’ll see how everything shakes out on July 1, which I'll be recapping for you.

Dominik Zine is a nerdy lad from northeastern Poland and is generally found in a comfy chair with a book in hand

Interview with Jae, author of Shaken to the Core

Today we're interviewing Jae, who's just published Shaken to the Core, a new historical adventure and romance set in San Francisco, during the massive earthquake of 1906. She's a well established author in the F/F community, and her exquisitely slow romances and great plots make her a reference for the genre.

Rachel: How would you describe Shaken to the Core?

Jae: Shaken to the Core is a lesbian historical romance. The novel is set in 1906, during the Great Earthquake and Fires in San Francisco. It’s the story of Giuliana, a working-class immigrant from Sicily, and Kate, the daughter of a rich family. They are both struggling to find their place in the world—Giuliana so she can make a living as a single woman without a family in America and Kate because she wants to be a newspaper photographer, not just a socialite who entertains rich suitors and is supposed to marry and reproduce.

Despite their different backgrounds, they become friends when Giuliana starts working for Kate’s family as a maid. But then the earthquake hits, and they find themselves fighting for their lives.

Rachel: On your website, you detail the (significant!) amount of hours spent on the different processes that make a book a reality. Do you prefer to do historical research or contemporary research?

Jae: I don’t actually have a preference. I love research—any kind of research. I call myself an “information junkie” because I love learning new things. And I learn something new with every book I write. For example, my romance novel Just Physical features a character with multiple sclerosis and another character who is a stuntwoman, so I did a lot of research on the stunt business and on life with MS.

But, of course, historical fiction requires a lot more research than a contemporary romance. I spent hours finding out one little detail that later took up only half a sentence in the book. Finding out more about the way people lived in past centuries is fascinating, so I often have to force myself to stop doing research and start writing.

Rachel: What was your research process for this book? Did it differ from other works?

Jae: I’m working on novel number fourteen right now, so my research process is well established and doesn’t change much from book to book. For historical novels, I start by doing general research into how people lived and how they thought in the era I’m writing about. What kind of food would they eat? What kind of medicine was available back then? What did they do for entertainment? How did the usage of language differ from ours? What new technology was invented during that time?

That general knowledge about the time helps me establish my characters’ personalities and backgrounds, and it also helps me to plot my books. Once I know what kind of scenes I will have in the book, I start doing more specialized research. For Shaken to the Core, I put together a timeline of events. When did the earthquake hit, and when did the aftershocks happen? What course did the fires take? How bad was the destruction in different parts of the city?

I only start writing once I’ve gathered all the information I know I will need.

Rachel: You write Kate braving the interdiction to take pictures to let the truth out— did the army really try to censor what was happening?

Jae: Pretty much every detail I mentioned in Shaken to the Core is based on facts. City officials wanted to portray San Francisco as a safe place to live and invest in, so they reported a death toll of under 500. Nowadays, the death toll is estimated at 3,000, possibly even 5,000 to 10,000 victims.

Officials also didn’t like anyone taking pictures of the destruction, especially not of the earthquake damage. Earthquakes are more unpredictable and uncontrollable compared to fires, and they were afraid that reporting the truth would scare away investors, so they downplayed the magnitude of the disaster and encouraged newspapers to report just the fire, not the earthquake.

Rachel: How did you decide you wanted to write about the San Francisco earthquake? Has it been a project long in the making, especially so long after Backward to Oregon? I remember you teased it in the Hollywood series, was it already in the plans then?

Jae: I don’t exactly remember when I first came across the Great Earthquake of 1906, but I have been interested in that era and in writing a novel about a natural disaster for a long time. I started doing research at the beginning of 2013, almost three years before I started writing the first draft of the novel.

When I wrote Damage Control, in which one of the main characters, Lauren, writes a screenplay set during the Great Earthquake and Fires, I already knew that I would write a novel about the same event and I also knew a lot of the scenes already. If you read Just Physical, the novel in which Lauren’s script is filmed, you will recognize several scenes from Shaken to the Core.

When I first envisioned Shaken to the Core and its characters, I didn’t plan on connecting it to my Oregon series, but once I had created Dr. Lucy Hamilton Sharpe, who’s much more comfortable with her sexual orientation than other lesbians of her time, I realized that I had to give her a background that would explain why she considers it perfectly normal to fall in love with women, not men. That’s when I decided to make her the granddaughter of the characters from Backwards to Oregon.

Rachel: What are your projects for historical fiction? Will we see more of the characters from Shaken to the Core?

Jae: I definitely plan to give Lucy her own novel. The book will focus on the Chinese community in San Francisco and the discrimination they faced, before and after the earthquake. I knew that someone like Lucy will need a strong partner who can be her equal, so she will become involved with a woman who fights to save young Chinese girls from slavery and prostitution.

Rachel: Do you have other projects in the work?

Jae: At the moment, I’m wrapping up revisions on Heart Trouble, a contemporary lesbian romance with an unexpected twist.

After that, I will write the story of one of Heart Trouble’s supporting characters. That seems to be a trend with me: I often become fascinated with the minor characters I created and will then give them a book of their own.

I’m also planning a follow-up novel to my popular romantic suspense series that started with Conflict of Interest and Next of Kin.

Rachel: You’ve shown skill with a lot of different genres: historical fiction, urban fantasy, contemporary fiction, procedural fiction… Do you plan to explore new territories? Science Fiction? Maybe gothic horror?

Jae: I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as a writer, so I love to explore new genres. I could definitely see myself writing science fiction or fantasy, since I devoured novels of those genres as a child and a teenager. There’s also a paranormal mystery on my books-to-write-one-day list.

Horror is pretty much the only genre that I never truly became interested in, so I’ll probably skip that one.

Rachel: I like how you’ve shown great diverse and complex characters in your bibliography. I know this is me preaching for my chapel, but do you plan to create a trans character one day? Maybe a lead?

Jae: I’ve learned to never say never. A diverse cast of characters is important to me. By the way, a lot of my readers read Luke from my historical novel Backwards to Oregon as transgender. While I didn’t set out to create a trans character in Luke, I understand how she could be viewed that way. At the very least, she’s what you would call genderqueer today.

Another story on my books-to-write-one-day list is a novel with an asexual main character. I have two asexual friends, and they don’t see themselves represented nearly enough in fiction.

Rachel Vigo is a would-be critical geographer from Paris (the one in France, not the one in Texas). She is an avid devourer of books and plays video-games far too much.

Book Review: Just Enough Light, by AJ Quinn

Content warning for abuse and abandonment of a child. Genre : Romance, drama, F/F Fiction, thriller.

There's something about F/F romances and the outdoors that is just so… Appealing to me. I don’t know if it’s my own choosing of books but I find myself reading a lot of romances set in rural places, especially in the mountains. It really makes me want to raise a family (of cats) somewhere high, snowy, and quiet. Kind of what Dana Kingston, one of the lead characters of this book, is doing.

This story begins, as it happens, with a flat tire. More specifically, the flat tire of a car belonging to one Dana Kingston, ex doctor in charge of the busiest Emergency Service of New York City, and now hired as the doctor in charge of a brand new medical triage center built high up in the Rockies. She’s rescued by Kellen Ryan, who happens to be the leader of the search and rescue operation attached to the clinic. Both women hit it off immediately, but Dana quickly realizes that Kellen has a troubled past, one she keeps under tight lock and won’t easily divulge. But Kellen may have to, because a deadly threat has arisen, and she’ll need all the help she can get not to slip back into the demons of her past.

This book is a lot closer to romance and drama than to thriller, and for those looking for the latter rather than the former (like I admittedly was), you will be disappointed. Kellen is a great character. She’s smart, kind, strong and will go to great lengths to protect and save lives in the pursuit of her job. She’s fearless, perhaps too much so, but she also has a heart too big for herself, one she shares with her two ‘adopted’ daughters, a couple of young girls she’s rescued from the streets. She comes from the streets herself, a flight for survival that lasted more than ten years after traumatic events that she’s still scarred and suffering from. Dana, being a medical practitioner, soon sees her PTSD symptoms, and accepts it. Her desire to be with her and help eventually intensifies with their love.

I felt that the two women, while having good chemistry and beautiful love scenes, were at the same time too perfect a couple and an unhealthy couple. Kellen is an impulsive person. Her difficult past has left her with a paradoxical combination of recklessness for her own safety in the pursuit of her job and a habit for flight-mode impulsiveness. During the book, she does at least three important things that involves other people without consulting them for their consent first. She also constantly disregards her own safety many times.

And Dana, who I felt was simply too perfect to be real, accepted all of this. She never complains, never shows any hurt or bad side— while I’ve never been in such a situation, I think that being in love with someone who constantly gets close to death must hurt. And I’m not talking about SAR (Search-And-Rescue) though it holds its own risks, but about the way she goes beyond her job (and the way the author sets her up to, of course) in order to do it better. When Kellen flees twice without telling her, leaving her working herself up in a frenzy of sadness and pain at the idea that she might be gone forever, there isn’t a single second of resentment or anger at being hurt like this. That, to me, doesn't read like a third-dimensional character, and it doesn't help that the story is all about Kellen.

I also felt the plot was a little nonsensical. The killer’s motivation is somewhat flimsy, and it never truly explains why he is a serial killer, especially since being a serial killer is absolutely counter-indicated by his motivation. In short, if you have a grudge against someone, why do you go around killing half a dozen unrelated people, to train? All it means is that you risk getting caught before you even get close to your goal. And why would he need to train in the first place, considering his background? And why would he make very specific threats and then do the exact opposite? And finally, the ending was so rushed that there’s an ellipsis spanning the final confrontation.

This is the first book I read from A.J. Quinn, and it was a disappointing read. I know it wasn’t exactly what I expected at first (though I always enjoy romances). I thought it fell short on both promises of romance and thriller elements. The writing is however very fluid and easy to read, and the few detailed sex scenes we’re given are good. But in the end, I feel it would have been a lot better with some work on Dana’s characterization and on the plot.

Just Enough Light is published by Bold Strokes Books, Inc, and can be ordered on the publisher's website.

Rachel Vigo is a would-be critical geographer from Paris (the one in France, not the one in Texas). She is an avid devourer of books and plays video-games far too much.

Overwatch Fan Squee Roundtable: An Important Discussion

A couple of us are Overwatch fanatics here at Critical Writ HQ, so we'd like to take some time to have a very important discussion about very important topics concerning Overwatch, Blizzard's amazing new IP.

Adrian: First, let me start by saying, I'm a little angry. I'm angry that I'm not playing Overwatch right now! There's something about when you first launch the game and the theme song starts, soft and quiet, it just makes you feel right and good.

Ivonne: True story! I get angry being at work and not playing Overwatch! My coworkers and I gush about it daily. I actually just put D.Va’s special as my text message notifications, so I am getting “Nerf this!” all day. But yeah, this game makes me feel happy, even when I’m dying a lot. I’ve yet to feel the need to ragequit. It’s just too much fun.

Adrian: Alright, who is your fav and are there any characters you ship? I don’t normally think about ships, but I was recently tipped off that when Symmetra gives Widowmaker a shield, that she says thank you without her normal brand of aggression and condescension towards others. Symmetra is my favorite, so I'm finding myself into this pairing.

Ivonne: Lúcio is my jam! I love that kid. And can I just say how wonderful it is for Blizzard to give every character a unique back story, and to diversify their characters so much! I’m not Brazilian, but being of Colombian descent, I do carry some pride that there is a South American character in this game. Lúcio’s back story is awesome and they clearly did some research on the culture, where music is super important, especially to the poor living in the crowded favelas.

Adrian: We've already got so many great characters in Overwatch, but what you do you think of the rumored upcoming character, Sombra (supposedly a support sniper)? What would you like to see in a new character?

Ivonne: #Birst is who I want! No but really, I’ve read the fan theories, and I’m super excited about the possibilities behind Sombra. As I noted above, I’m Latina, and I can assure you that I have never played a game with a Latina protagonist. When you see Latin women in video games, they are either sex workers in a game like Vice City, or mafia women in tiny bikinis at the poolside of the mafia Don. So a Latina hero? Sign me up!

Adrian: I agree 100%, I’m excited for Sombra for mostly the same reasons. I’m also intrigued by the other new characters (Liao and Doomfist are two other rumored additions) but I'm not sure we've all had a long enough time to learn the meta game with the existing characters. Which characters combinations do you like most? And what do you think of the latest nerfs?


Ivonne: All I have to say is that McCree needed the nerf. No, sir, it is NOT high noon! As far as new characters go, in Blizzard I Trust. I was reading an interview with Jeff Kaplan where he talks about how during beta they released Mei, D.Va, and Genji all at once and people kind of hated them. So they want to release new characters one at a time and let the game find balance. I think that’s a great way to do it. Release one new character, let people get used to them, let people find their rhythm.

Adrian: I’m not against nerfing and play balancing, but I’m often frustrated by how quickly some of these balance patches hit; again, I feel like we haven’t had quite enough time to make the judgments we do. You can’t complain that five or six Torbjorns are unbeatable when you haven’t tried running five or six D.Vas against them. I think players need to get used to switching up and trying new strats before running to the forums to complain. That being said, the McCree nerf made total sense. Being able to Genji with a stun and right-click make sense, but being able to melt a tank with a right-click is another matter.

Ivonne: There is a twitter account called @reapernames, self explanatory; some of them are kind of gross and misogynistic, I'm afraid, BUT... this one here is one of my favs:

Credit: @reapernames

Ivonne: Because Reaper is TOTALLY the kind of emo edgelord who would drop the hard truth on you about Santa!

Adrian: I'd go further and say being crushed by the truth about Santa is what made Reaper go edgelord in the first place! I'm going to wrap this up with a really sweet 'Pharah saves Mercy' GIF where Pharah knocks Roadhog off the platform with a concussive blast right as Roadhog hooked Mercy, dragging her into the pit with him:

Ivonne: OMG that is awesome!

Adrian: I like to think that they were on voice and the Mercy was like "oh my gad im falling!!" and Pharah was like "noo turn around fly to mee i've got u" and then the rest of their team was "like yaaaay nice save gj everyone" 😃

Ivonne: I dunno why this game makes me so happy but it does. ❤️

Ivonne Martin is a writer, gamer, and avid consumer of all things geek—and is probably entirely too verbose for her own good.
Adrian Martinez is a graphic designer, comic book letterer, hobbyist writer, and all-around geek living in New York City.

Book Review: A Love That Disturbs, by Medeia Sharif

Content warning for physical abuse, rape, emotional abuse & blackmail, sexual trafficking, and extreme violence against women. Genre : Drama, Contemporary, Romance, F/F Fiction

Before we start, I feel that we need to go back over the content warning header— because this is not an easy read at all. This book features some of the worst things human beings do to one another and some pretty gut wrenching abuse. This book is a good example of an emotional rollercoaster, with heartwarming cuteness at times and disaster at others. Despite this, the violence pictured is violence that happens every day against women in every part of the world.

I feel we should also take time to talk about Muslims— one of the lead characters of this book being a hijabi woman after all— in the LGBTQI community. In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, it is obvious that violence and abuse will impact a community that is not responsible for the actions of the few. But we, as the non-Muslim LGBTQI community, should be even more wary of not alienating and pushing away those among us who are both Muslim and LGBTQI. Making it about “us” and “them” in regards to Muslims has always been hateful and bigoted, and disregarding Muslims LGBTQI people is just as terrible.

This is the first day for Haydee in her new school. She’s back from alternative and juvie schools after a hard life as a gang member— a life she firmly wants to leave behind. But she’s not quite out of it yet and there remains the matter of her abusive and extremely violent pimp who still maintains control over her. As a sexually trafficked minor, she doesn’t get any say at all— what had first been for her a means of survival has become a trap. But she still needs the money to get out and start anew. At school, she meets Maysa Mazari, a charming and bright hijabi student. Maysa is the first person that sees her for who she is, without judgment or prejudice about her past. However Maysa’s friends don’t like Haydee and do everything within their power to separate the two. So when their friendship turns into something more and Haydee decides to fully cut ties with her past, danger arises for both girls as violence escalates.

As I said, A Love That Disturbs elicits strong emotions. Both of these girls, who are attending the last year of high school are victims of some form of abuse. Maysa is slowly realizing how evil and mean her friend Aamal is; she’s a manipulator and an abuser with venom on her tongue and as soon as Maysa befriends Haydee,  she turns their mutual friends against her. Haydee is controlled by her pimp, Rafe, a violent and manipulating man who won’t let her stop sex work. Both of these girls are very believably written teenagers although Haydee was forced to grow up by the horrifying experiences she’s had and remains chillingly mature for her age. The experiences they face will force them to grow up further and their romance will start a journey towards independence and freedom from their respective abusers.

Their friendship builds quickly— Maysa is a kind soul who refuses to let her judgmental friends paint Haydee as a “walking STD” or a delinquent drop out. She’s more curious and interested in Haydee than anything. I liked that Haydee was initially awkward and a bit insensitive about Islam, even telling Maysa that “she has really pretty hair and shouldn’t cover it”. Her reading about Islam afterwards to get to know Maysa's religion better was a very endearing and cute move. I liked how their relationship plays out too— it’s not one saving the other from their life, it’s about each girl finding the strength and hope in their relationship to cut ties with their abusers.

Medeia Sharif's writing is tight and an easy read. Points of view alternate each chapter between the two girls and while it is sometimes a little awkward due to some chapters going backwards in time, it remains a very pleasant read. I however felt that she tells too much, which is surprising because she shows just enough— A few times the narration would repeat what I felt was obvious but that too was a minor problem.

To sum up A Love That Disturbs deals with difficult subject matter that may not be easy to read and will certainly be extremely triggering to some readers but it is still powerful and an excellent read.

A Love That Disturbs is published by Evernight Teen, and can be found on the publisher's website.

Rachel Vigo is a would-be critical geographer from Paris (the one in France, not the one in Texas). She is an avid devourer of books and plays video-games far too much.