A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea

Rating: ★★★★★

It does not surprise me with all the latest news that is going on about North Korea that I stumble upon this beautiful and tragic novel. Words cannot begin to express the amount of agony I felt learning about Masaji Ishikawa life in North Korea and his journey towards freedom. I have known for years that North Korea’s regime has a blatant disregard towards human life and what makes this novel powerful is that we get a first person account of what it truly means to be living in North Korea under Kim Il-Sung reign.

Masaji Ishikawa was born in Japan, his mother is Japanese and his father is South Korean. Living in Japan during the 1950s was severe for his family because of the bad blood relations between the Japanese and Koreans. His father was essentially a thug who could not find any work and abused his wife any chance he got in order to cope with the harsh struggles of life. Thanks to the propaganda that circulates about North Korea, Masaji father decides they are moving for a better life. Immediately upon arrival Masaji realizes that the Japanese government has lied about the promises of North Korea and they just signed their life to the Devil.

Over a period of three decades we get to witness the horrors that Masaji’s experiences under this dictatorship. The amount of suffering that is accurately described in this novel makes the reader wonder how is this possible? How can governments around the world allow this amount of human suffering to take place in this country and not bother to do something about it? Isolation and loneliness is a theme that the author suffers through his lifetime. Being Japanese in the North Korean government is consider the lowest of the low and institutional racism becomes apparent when every opportunity he tries to elevate himself in Korean society Masaji gets knocked down every time because simply he is Japanese.

We see how the events that transpires in Masaji’s life chips away his soul and that is what breaks my heart the most. Even when you think things could not possibly get worst trust me on this one it does. I cannot begin to imagine what I would do if I was in his shoes and the level of degradation that Masaji’s deals with on a daily basis in order to survive showcases no one in this world deserves to suffer. Water, food, roof over your heard, and clothes are the essential components of living that we take for granted. Another thing that is actually shocking is the power of thought. We all have opinions about any topic and we have the luxury to think what we want. In North Korea, the idea that you have a thought is treason itself against the government and speaking out is one step closer to signing your own death certificate.

The idea that you have no control over the chaos that is your life resonated a lot with me in this story and I hope no one ever has to experience what Masaji and myself had to go through. During my final years in High School, I was currently living in a mobile home with a roof that was slowly collapsing, a family that did not have the funds to fix it, no running hot water, and a bipolar uncle off his meds and refusing to work. My uncle asked to move in and mentioned that he was going to live with us for a few months to get back on his feet and in the end he lived with us for almost 4 years. I witnessed a few of his manic episodes and living in my own home was like walking on egg shells.

I tried to find ways of escaping from this nightmare of my life and no matter what I did to get myself out of the situation I always found myself back to square one. Having no friends, no way to prosper and find an escape it made me bitter about life for years. Fortunately I am not in that situation anymore and have a proper support system that can help me but imagine if I had to suffer like that for 30 years? What would be the reason of living if I had to resort to this awful nightmare? Honestly I do not believe I would be able and for Masaji to live in harsher conditions than myself only showcases the valiant human spirit and the art of not giving up on hope.

I found it interesting how the idea of escaping North Korea never fully crossed his mind until the death of Kim Il-Sung and the famine that erupted in North Korea. No matter what he tried to do in order to put food on the table was never enough and the poisonous foods that they were forced to eat portrays them as starving animals. There is no happy ending in this novel and even when he was finally able to escape in 1996 the aftermath of his actions leaves a bitter taste for Masaji and the audience. I hope he is able to find some peace in the end of his life. The scene of how his mother passes away left me in tears and angry that no one could do anything for Masaji and his family.

Being a son of a Cuban immigrants allows me to understand and grasp the terror of this regime. There are moments throughout the novel that resonates deeply to the fascist regime of Cuba. When Kim Il-Sung passes away and this famine breaks out is literally history repeating itself. Around the same time when the U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1992, Cuba was one of the countries that was receiving major aid. Cubans began to starve for years because there was no money to buy food, if you were lucky to have money then you were shit out of luck in the grocery stores because there was barely any food available to eat. The difference with this type of famine is for North Korea, thousands if not millions of individuals died from this famine wiping a huge chunk of the population.

I hope with this book it can teach people the true account of what is happening in North Korea and the reality that basic human rights are being violated on a constant basis. I highly recommend everyone to pick up this relatively powerful short novel and discover this epic story. His writing flow felt like I was reading poetry and it blew me away for being such a short book you learn a lot of about Masaji and North Korea. I hope someday Masaji can be reunited with his family and my heart goes out to all North Koreans who are suffering and I hope someday this fascist regime will end and the Koreans could finally be reunited in peace and harmony.


Thor: God of Thunder, Vol. 1: The God Butcher

Rating: ★★★★★

After reading the first volume of Girl Thor, I am actually glad that I am reading this one finally because I am pretty much connecting the dots and learning that this first volume sets up the plot for how Thor will lose his belief that he is worthy. We get to discover Thor in three aspects of his life: past, present, and future. I’m curious to know whether Jason Aaron already had intentions for a woman Thor because the future Thor as an old man opens up major discussions now as to whether Thor actually defeats her or rather she gets killed and he assumes his duty as the God of Thunder.

The essential plot for this first volume deals with Thor being summoned to this barren planet after a little girl prays to him. When he comes to the rescue and saves this planet he discovers that they do not worship any Gods. He is utterly shock by that news that Gods do not exist in this part of the universe and does some detective work to discover that the planet had at one point several Gods over a 1,000 years ago but they were all butchered. As he follows the trails of evidence he comes to realize that this God Killer is someone he has dealt with in the past and sadly that means he is still alive.

Cue to the past. We are sucked into the Vikings era and we get to see Thor being the stereotypical macho man of a God without his hammer replaced instead with an axe. He lives among the mortals and lives up to the tales that are written about him in Norse Mythology. Once again on a mission he discovers a beheaded Indian god with fears in his eyes. He explores the territory and finally encounters the villain that will ultimately be his demise. The creature’s name is Gorr and he wants to kill every single God and Goddess.

What I enjoyed the most about Gorr is his logic actually makes sense and it brings up the discussion whether he is truly the villain or could it possibly be Thor who wreaks havoc and the brink of destruction. Gorr dreams of a world where mankind of any race does not have to rely on Gods and Goddess because at the end of the day these immortals accomplish nothing when they are needed the most. Thor is the exception where he seeks justice for the innocent but even though he always saves the day it leaves a vacuum for villains to rise up and cause more destruction leaving the entire galaxy in constant chaos for him to repair. If Gods cease to exist then the ideas of wars, miracles, and other aspects of religion would be erased and we will be better off in Gorr’s point of view. He doesn’t attack the humans at first because his beef is strictly with the divine and yet doesn’t shed a tear for what he deems human frailty.

Cue Present Thor. Now that he has discovered that Gorr is still alive his next mission is to discover what Gorr is up to and how to find him which is harder than it seems. Gorr keeps following the trail of missing Gods and is shocked that Gorr has murdered them by the thousands and he is actually scared that there is a possibility that Gorr may succeed in wiping off all the Gods in every universe. Cue future Thor.We witness Thor as an old man, long white beard, a metal arm and utterly defeated. He has his hammer by his side and yet he wants to die. He is the last known God in existence and no matter how many times he fights Gorr and his hounds, in the end Gorr keeps him alive and refuses to show mercy unto Thor with a respectful death.

I believe deep down the Future Thor is a parallel universe where Gorr actually succeeded in his wish of changing the course of Immortality and the creation of the Universe. Present Thor in the end gets sucked into a time machine blood pool and ends up in the future and now both of Thors have an actual winning shot of defeating Gorr once and for all. The illustrations in this graphic novel was fascinating to see and what a total difference when it mirrors to the woman Thor. Jason Aaron knows how to keep my attention especially with him writing for Star Wars, I am definitely hooked on this Thor series and his character is growing on me. He is not my favorite Avenger and hopefully the upcoming volumes will keep my intrigue. I need to know the backstory of Gorr and how he became this fantastic villain!

Visualizing The Beatles: A Complete Graphic History of the World’s Favorite Band

Rating: ★★★★

I am in love with The Beatles. I remember the first song that I ever heard from this famous band was Twist and Shout and the rest is history. Actually I was late on the Beatles train because I remember during middle school when Across the Universe came out in theaters and all the theater geeks were rocking out to the songs and I was completely indifferent about going to see the film, listening more to the Beatles, and joining in on the fun. That is one thing about me, when everyone is going crazy about something whether it be a book, film, tv show, or music I naturally stay away from it like the plague. I think it is the mentality that if I join with the masses then it loses its special novelty.

A few years ago I finally had enough money to buy the entire Beatles catalogue on iTunes and my life has never been the same. Their music is timeless and even though we are living in the 21st century I can play any album of The Beatles and it would be 1000x better than the crap that is on the radio at the moment. The lyrics are astounding, the harmonies are unique, and deep down they changed the course of history with the definition of what it means to be an artist and a musician. It is no wonder that I admire them and they influence me with my creativity. Hence when I saw this book being displayed at my local library I immediately snatched it up.

If you are a Beatles fanatic then this book might not be for you because it provides a basic history of the Beatles discography, the formation of the group, and ultimately their break up. Every page you get colorful illustrations, maps, and timelines that show how the Beatles were influenced and how their music shaped the culture and how world events were influencing them. I am more interested about the group in the musical aspects so it was interesting to see maps and locations of where they lived, places they visited, and other sites that inspired classic songs like Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, Eleanor Rigby, and countless others.

I wanted to rate this 5 stars but there was some details that lacked in this book and I wish they added more. This book is by no means an encyclopedia of The Beatles and they do not pretend to act like it is. Like the early years of the Beatles most of their albums until the Rubber Soul era consists of some original songs and then cover songs. In this book they tell you how many covers vs originals in each album but they do not tell you exactly which songs are original and which are cover songs from other bands. I wish they could have used some symbols to illustrate this and it would have made it fascinating to see.

One huge thing that I absolutely loved was the songwriting credits for each album. It is known to most people that John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote most of the Beatles music with a few exceptions where they let George Harrison and Ringo Starr take a crack at songwriting. In each album, the authors of this book illustrates who truly wrote which songs and I think that is beautiful and mind blowing to discover. You finally get to see which of your favorite songs were written by which member and if they either wrote the entire song by themselves or had a helping hand. If you were ever curious as to the fashion of their outfits, the cover images of their albums then you should buy this book.

The illustrations are phenomenal and I think this is great book to give to kids or teenagers who are starting to get into the Beatles and discover that these four handsome men accomplished a lot in a matter of 8 years and changed pop culture forever. One thing that I am so happy about is that the authors acknowledge that the album Let It Be is not their last album. It is technically their last because it was released when they broke up but recording wise their album Abbey Road was the last album where they officially had their final recording sessions. I think that is crucial information because it changes the entire catalogue and ideology of their sound. I haven’t marathon The Beatles catalogue in a few years now but after reading this book I definitely will again.

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

Rating: ★★★★★

The sole purpose of reading this novel was to get the insight intel of Trump as President and his relationship with Comey. Pure and simple. I had seen the interviews and the media buzz surrounding this novel and for the most part after reading this book, it did not provide anything new or rather anything that I haven’t heard of already. I went into this novel blind and I think that was the best option I could have chosen because I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Comey as an individual and as the Director of the FBI.

Everyone knows who is James Comey. If you do not know who he is then clearly you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade. But do we as the American people know much about him behind the job title? That is a flat out no and we get to learn more about him through the narrative of this story. We get to learn why he decided to become a lawyer, how he became Deputy Attorney General under the Bush Administration, his ultimate resignation, and return to Washington politics under Obama as Director of the FBI.

It has not been an easy journey and what I enjoyed the most about this book was how he defines leadership and the qualities we must seek from leaders regardless whether it is the President of the United States or your current boss. Effective leadership is when people are able to show humility, humbleness, and being able to truly listen to everyone and seek feedback in order to make better choices as a leader. What surprised me the most about James Comey is how critical he is of himself and how he was able to showcase that he is a flawed individual. Most head honchos especially since he was the former director of the FBI tend to showcase this image that they are flawless because if your subordinates see you making mistakes then you’ve failed as a leader. Which is completely the opposite. In order for people to grow is to witness you at your worst and how you have learned from your mistakes.

Right now it is 2018 and yet his name is still hated by all parties of the political spectrum and he understands fully why. He was put into a unpredictable situation during one of most divisive elections in modern political history. He showcases all the steps that lead to his decisions and for the most part I accept his reasons as valid but I believe he still has not accepted that he f@$ked up tremendously in two aspects in reference to Clinton and the Russian Investigation.

I remember from 2015 up till election night that everyone and their mother were talking about the damn emails and I was fed up with it because yes I admit that Hillary screwed up on the part that she shouldn’t have had a personal email server and handling classified government information on a server that wasn’t secured. That was negligent of her but should she go to jail for it? Hell no and yet the media heighten it up and distorted the main reasons of the investigation. I blame Comey for that.

I remember even conservatives were trying to find out about Benghazi and by not providing all her emails they believed it was a cover up and this email drama became in my opinion a total and utter witch hunt. The FBI investigation was about (1) whether Hillary knew that it was against the law having a private personal server, (2) If Hillary mentioned any highly classified information to people who did not have the proper clearance and (3) if she lied to the FBI in the interview she gave towards the end of the investigation.

After a year long investigation Comey found that she was telling the truth and the evidence pointed that it was simply laziness on her part for not being tech savvy and all the correspondences she had with everyone had clearance to discuss these classified documents. And yet none of this was properly discussed on the news because had people understood that concept this whole movement of “Lock Her Up” and “Crooked Hillary” would ceased and yet Comey never clarified that and that got me really angry when reading that part of the book.

The Russian Investigation. He admits that he wanted to tell the American people but between speaking to Obama and his staff they did not want to meddle with this election because it would appear as though Obama was trying to sabotage Trump’s chance of winning. They all believed that Trump had no winning chance and the other reason is they did not want to play into Russia’s hands that by acknowledging this influence in our election it would undermine our democracy.

Both him and Obama made a decision based on generalizing the mentality of the American people and that infuriates me because you cannot judge the mental state of Americans because theres a good chance that yes we would react exactly how you predicted but if you believe in the true values of what it is to be American and how we can unite to defeat a common enemy especially one that is trying to destroy our Country then you have to give Americans the benefit of the doubt.

I believe he should have come out and mention the Russian investigation because it would have leveled the playing field. I remember there were countless voters who voted for Trump on the sole merit that he wasn’t under investigation. Also reopening the Clinton investigation could have been dealt a better way. Comey believed there was no other option and I believe using the term investigation and making this into a spectacle a mere two weeks before the election was an utter failure.

From reading this book I believe he could used a better choice of words and mention that they got new intel and wanted to verify it to make sure they reach the same decision as they did back in July 2016. By saying this was a reopened case made it looked like that they found something that would reveal that Hillary lied to us all. He was put into an impossible situation that no matter what he was not going to come out of it in one piece. I accept and understand his actions but I feel in those instances it is where he made all this fiasco an utter disaster.

This was a beautifully written book which surprised me in ways that I cannot properly describe to you. I was expecting this to be poorly written but being the FBI director has made James Comey a fabulous writer. His attention to detail hits the spot and I was never bored for a second when reading this. The chapter where he talks about his dead baby son broke me into tears and couldn’t image what it feels like to lose your child after days of it being born and persevering through that tragedy. In reference to Trump, I feel horrible for anyone who has to put up with this nacho cheese puff. I am grateful that he saved all the details about Trump towards the end because I was getting annoyed by this ridiculous man baby who keeps whining about why he can’t be an effective leader because of the Russian investigation and would not shut up about the golden shower prostitute drama.

I believe it is vital for us to seek the truth and hold our leaders accountable especially when they are lying and deceiving the citizens they govern. I do not know what is going to happen with the results of this investigation, whether Trump serves a second term, but I do believe in hope and I believe that somehow the truth will come out and we as the American people are not going to give in to fear. Will there be major damages created by orange f@#k face? Definitely but I believe his actions are making people to finally wake up and be active in our government and I hope the midterm elections this year proves to Trump and to the world that we do not tolerate bigotry and sexism.

Midnighter: The Complete Wildstorm Series

Rating: ★★★★

Who is Midnighter? How did he get his powers? Who was he before he became this monster? These are questions still left unanswered after reading this massive collection. It is the sole reason why it is not 5 stars material because I love to know about a character’s backstory. Also the main reason why I checked this graphic novel out of the library for the simple fact that he is gay and I wanted more gay action and it barely scratched the surface. Midnighter is this vigilante who has the ability to see the future in terms of fighting. What I mean is if someone decides to attack him, he is able to see their moves in advance and knows how to counterattack.

He has super strength and nano technology in his system so if he gets injured he’s practically instantly healed in a matter of seconds. Through this graphic novel we get to see difficult situations that arises either by enemies who seek havoc on Earth or drama within his own family. He is married to Apollo and I love the chemistry between these two characters. While the gay action is not extremely apparent, there are moments where we get to see them kiss and make out. My favorite storyline out of the entire magnum opus is Hitler time travel.

Midnighter gets kidnapped one day and his kidnapper proposes the idea of him going back in time to kill Hitler and prevent the Holocaust. His parents died in the concentration camps and wishes that to never happened. Simple request right? Oh I forgot if Midnighter does not accomplish this task, he’s injected a bomb inside him and it will detonate and obliterate him. So Midnighter participates in this experience and gets sucked into the middle of a battle in WWI and discovers a young soldier who is Adolf Hitler. He’s close to killing him when this group of time travel police interrupt him. He fails to kill to Hitler but discovers a valuable lesson about history and why you shouldn’t mess with time even though you would be saving million of lives from a mad man.

Midnighter is a hero but at the same time I would say he is not the classic definition of what it means to be a superhero. His brooding behavior reminds me of Batman except he has special abilities. With these abilities come major consequences and we see the toll it takes especially on his identity. Theres one storyline that deals with his past and if granted the chance to discover your past life and maybe remember it would you accept this information? We get close to finding the juicy details about his life and yet the road is so far towards actually knowing what happen to him before he became this monster.

The illustrations are phenomenal and even though this series was written years ago I felt major relevance especially the Anthem storyline. Especially with who is governing our country it doesn’t surprised me if the sad day comes where we would hired organizations to “protect” our cities in exchange of our liberties getting taken away. If you want to read a comic book that caters to the Batman and Superman gay fantasy then I highly recommend picking up this comic.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vol. 1: The Crucible

Rating: ★★★★★

If you grew up watching the Sabrina the Teenage Witch tv series with Melissa Joan Hart then I need you to erase all those nostalgic memories and enter this graphic novel with an open mind and with a sweet taste of horror. I love Sabrina the Teenage Witch since I was a child and I have watched and seen every reincarnation over the years from the Archie Show to Melissa Joan Hart. Not many people know this but Sabrina is spinoff from the Archie Comics and we get our first introduction to Sabrina in the Afterlife of Archie universe when she tries to save Jughead’s dog. Some including myself came into this graphic novel with the idea that we would see a continuation but this series is on its own merits in a different Archie universe.

As readers we get a glimpse into Spellman family past surrounding her warlock father, Edward Spellman, and her mortal mother Diana. Lets just say its complete fu**ed up. Edward made promises to the Witch council and by obligation has to fulfill them or suffer their wrath and it is completely forbidden for a Warlock to marry a mortal. Sabrina is forced to be raised by her Aunts Hilda and Zelda and they decide that its better if they move in order for Sabrina to grow as a witch. They move to the small town, Greendale which is right next to Riverdale so we are bound to discover a few familiar faces throughout the graphic novel.

Time flies and Sabrina is now on the brink of turning 16 years old on Halloween and since she’s half-mortal she is given the opportunity to decide whether she wants to be a witch. It is not an easy decision because she has fallen in love with her mortal teenage boy by the name of Harvey Kinkle. Everything in her life seems to be going great until someone from the past is resurrected and wants revenge on the Spellman family. Her name is Madam Satan and she is the ultimate bad-ass of a villain. She designs her revenge like a game of chess biding her time for the perfect occasion to make her move and no one has discovered that she is behind all the chaos that erupts towards the end of the novel. Diana tries to warn Sabrina about Madam Satan’s arrival in a dream but Sabrina completely forgets about it and personally that left me at the end of my seat.

I do not want to give any spoilers as to what happens in towards the end but I am fully invested now in this graphic novel series. I am completely speechless as to what will happen next in the upcoming issues and I am afraid for Sabrina. The story takes place in the 1960s which is perfect because I was getting major creep vibes from the illustrations and the coloring. A big applause to Robert Mack in the art department and how he was able to create a different atmosphere for this original comic. I am happy that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa made this completely different because now I am more intrigued about the Spellman family and the limitless potential of magic in this universe.

One topic that I found fascinating is the consequences of magic and the world of witchcraft. I love anything that deals with magic, witches, and warlocks and in my mind growing up we always see the aspect of how these witches derive their powers from good magic. For this comic the Witches worship Satan. It scared me to the point where if I had to live in this universe I would rather take my chances living as a mortal than succumb to the devil. The power of the illustrations led me to draw that conclusion and that is what makes this horror comic so wonderful. I highly recommend everyone to pick this up if you need a dose of horror in your life!

The Infinity Gauntlet (Infinity Saga, #1)

Rating: ★★★★

I will acknowledge that I am not an expert when it comes to comics particularly to superheroes. I have seen all the Marvel films (pending with Infinity War as we speak) and know the brief background story of all the major characters. With that being said I still enjoyed this comic and recommend all Marvel film fans to check it out to get an idea as to what is to come for Infinity Wars. My only complaint is Thanos motives and the cartoonish vibe I got about that ending.

I do not know who is Thanos and I still do not fully know who is Thanos after reading The Infinity Gauntlet but one thing I do know is that he seeks power. He was supposedly dead but Death herself resurrected him and he deceived her with retrieval of the Infinity Gauntlet. When possessed with all the infinity gems you are essentially indestructible and basically the universe that we speak is over. For Thanos, he is in love with Death and wants to win her affections so he tries to maintain the promise of wiping off half of all living creatures in the universe. Sure enough in a matter of minutes, 50% of all humans, animals, and alien species are wiped off the map as though they never existed.

Doctor Strange discovers this mystery when Silver Surfer arrives warning about Thanos and it is up to the Avengers (what is left of them) and all galactic titans and villains to team up and stop Thanos from destroying the universe. Captain America is in charge as always but a new character comes into the mix by the name of Adam Warlock that claims to know Thanos true intentions and is the only one who can destroy him. This issue causes some riffs among the Avengers but they learn that they must be a united front in order to have a small chance at winning this ultimate battle.

I realize that readers such as myself will not think its 5 stars material because on my lazy end I do not know a bunch of the characters that are referenced or featured. I do not know who is Adam Warlock and the importance of his character connected to the Soul Gem and some villains that temporary seize control of Earth are creatures I have never seen in films. So in certain places I was a bit confuse and just kept telling myself to continue reading and persevere on. I grasp the gist of this comic at 85% and I think that is not too shabby considering the monstrosity that is the Marvel Universe. Also Thor turning into mortal if he’s not connected to his hammer is a bit ridiculous.

As for Thanos… I think the plot of trying to prove his love for Death was extremely weak and pathetic. Not to say that it is not believable (the crazy sh@t we do in the name of love proves it) but rather this persona of Thanos as the Ultimate Destroyer of Worlds gets watered down to a baby throwing a temper tantrum and made this graphic novel feel like a Saturday morning kids cartoon show. I do not know if it is also the time period that this comic was written but I feel like if Infinity Gauntlet was written in today, the writers and creators would have done a complete different plot line that would blow this Marvel Universe to a whole other dimension or maybe its just my imagination. All I know is Thanos main motives in the upcoming film are completely different!

I need to give a shout out to everyone who was in charge of the illustrations and the coloring because you left me speechless with this graphic novel. One issue I have about the old comic books is how the illustrations make the characters feel archaic compare to the animation that I grew to love as a child. Reading this graphic novel reminded me of when I used to watch the X-Men and Spiderman animated series from the 90s and that nostalgia factor made me cherish this comic.