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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

All-New Ghost Rider

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 04:00 PM PDT

NO, this is not an April's Fools Day joke – Ghost Rider really is driving a car instead of riding a bike now.

It's not just the number of wheels that are different this time, the creators of All-New Ghost Rider – writer Felipe Smith and artist Tradd Moore – have also cast a new man behind the flaming skull – instead of Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch, the new Spirit of Vengeance is now called Robbie Reyes.

And that's not all. Even the flaming skull looks different – instead of the usual well-defined human skull, this one looks more like a cross between a skull and an Imperial Stormtrooper.

Well, there goes the upholstery. The new Ghost Rider gets behind his new wheels for the first time.

Well, there goes the upholstery. The new Ghost Rider gets behind his new wheels for the first time.

This is clearly not the Ghost Rider we know. But still, if Smith and Moore can keep up the intensity that is prevalent in this first issue of All-New Ghost Rider, they just might have the last laugh.

Part of the slew of new #1 titles in the All-New Marvel Now relaunch, All-New Ghost Rider is a welcome return for the character, who hasn't had a solo title since a short-lived 10-issue run in 2011.

This first issue introduces us to our new protagonist Robbie Reyes, a teenager trying to raise his physically challenged younger brother in a rough, gang-ruled part of Los Angeles. Mechanic by day and street racer by night, Robbie dreams of giving his brother a better life, and the only way he can do that is by taking part in high-stakes street races.

All Robbie Reyes wants in life is to give his younger brother Gabe a better life.

All Robbie Reyes wants in life is to give his younger brother Gabe a better life.

Both Smith and Moore are relatively new to the Marvel Universe – the former is widely known as the first American writer to have his own serialised manga series in Japan (Peepo Choo), while this is Moore's first interior work for Marvel, having worked on Image Comics' Luther Strode saga in the past. The unique styles of this pair of relatively unknown creators is what makes All-New Ghost Rider work so well.

In building up Reyes as a character, Smith shows marvellous restraint, starting off by introducing us to his humdrum life in his gang-ridden neighbourhood and his dedication to his little brother, before switching gears to a thrilling night race that comes to a fiery end.

Here, Moore's manga-esque illustrations give a freshness and visceral vibrancy to All-New Ghost Rider, from the intense kinetic energy of the street racing scenes to the burst of flame that marks the arrival of a new Spirit of Vengeance.

It's not just the action scenes that stand out here though – in fact, the first lick of flame doesn't even show up until page 11, when Robbie decides to "borrow" a car he'd been working on to go for a street race (which obviously doesn't end well).

Unlike DC Comics' incessant recycling of the same old tropes for the New 52, Marvel seems to have taken the opposite route for All-New Marvel Now's new titles. Silver SurferShe-HulkMs Marvel, and now All-New Ghost Rider have one thing in common – each book features artists with very unique styles, and writers who are willing to take time to develop their characters instead of going straight for the punch from the get-go.

The all-new Ghost Rider finally gets his flame on.

Where DC's creators have to adhere to the rather rigid continuity of its universe, Marvel seems to be giving its creators free rein to do what they darn well please, resulting in a streak of inventiveness and originality that almost rivals the creator-owned stuff over at Image.

Sure, these are still the same old characters we've been reading about for decades now, but with books likeAll-New Ghost Rider, Marvel is showing that you can teach an old Spirit of Vengeance new tricks after all.

Single issues of All-New Ghost Rider and other All-New Marvel Now titles can be ordered from virtual comic store Earth 638 (e-mail:, tel: 012-663 1584, Facebook:

An American Bride In Kabul

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

"I once lived in a harem in Afghanistan."

The opening statement in feminist and author Phyllis Chesler's memoirs, An American Bride In Kabul, is arresting and blatantly blunt.

As the title states, Chesler was an American bride in the Afghan capital. The question most people reading this memoir would ask is: why would a Jewish woman from a modern and liberal society willingly decamp to a war-ravaged and ultra-conservative Muslim country? The answer Chesler provides is love. 

Chesler was 18 when she met her Afghan husband while they were both in university in New York City, in the late 1950s. She was quickly smitten by the Westernised Abdul-Kareem, a man who would be part of her mental, emotional and physical landscape for the next 50 years, despite their marriage not lasting longer than two years.

As Chesler points out, it is vital to recognise that Afghanistan in the 1960s was very different from the Afghanistan of today. Some 50-odd years ago, Afghanistan was a country at peace; fanatics had not foisted their brand of religion upon the population; the country was actually rather Westernised, with women and men clad in clothes that reflected the European and American fashion of the era. 

Chesler writes that Abdul-Kareem never told her about life in Afghanistan (Chesler only found out that her mother-in-law was one of three wives, and that Abdul-Kareem was one of 21 children after she landed on Afghan soil), and being young, na├»ve and in love, she followed her heart to where Abdul-Kareem wanted to go. Plus, by marrying a Muslim man, Chesler was, in her own way, conducting an act of rebellion against her upbringing. 

Armed with all these reasons, Chesler states that she got married to a man outside of both her faith and culture, and went to Afghanistan "on my own free will". 

Spanning some five decades, An American Bride In Kabul is broken into two sections: the first part focuses on Chesler's youth and time in Afghanistan, while the second part sees her back in America, encompassing the years post-9/11, 2001, to the present. 

The first half of the memoir is very personal, with Chesler sharing intimate and minute details of her life in Afghanistan. She does not shy away from describing the many fights she had with Abdul-Kareem, her battles with her mother-in-law, Bebegul, and her frustration about being unable to eat the local food, as it is cooked in ghee which does not agree with Chesler's delicate stomach. Chesler also adds in parts of her diary entries from this time.

In addition to the food issue, Chesler finds that she is imprisoned against her will. Unable to comprehend the rationale, Chesler is puzzled why she is unable to move about on her own, and she is constantly being watched by her immediate in-laws and the extended family (second and third wives, and their respective offspring) and the numerous servants that run the compound.

Though it becomes apparent that life is not living up to Chesler's expectations, there are moments of genuine hilarity in her struggle to fit in with her Afghan family. For instance, Chesler tries to communicate with Bebegul with the little Dari, Pashtun and German that she knows, and in turn Bebegul tries to talk to her American daughter-in-law with the limited English and German that she is able to muster, and the two of them get by with a whole lot of smiling and charades.

It is in this section of the book that Chesler injects references and quotes from women explorers who came to Afghanistan in the early 20th century, as well as Western women who married Muslim men and lived happy lives in the Middle East. By adding these references and quotes into her memoir, one gets the impression that Chesler is not only trying to justify her decision to go to Afghanistan for love, but that she is also trying to decipher why her marriage to Abdul-Kareem and her relationship with her in-laws, particularly Bebegul, failed.

The second half of the memoir is much less personal, as it centres more on Chesler's development as a feminist and outspoken critic, particularly in the treatment of women in Muslim cultures. 

Readers also get a glimpse into Chesler's mind, as she tries to make sense of the world and women's place in the world.

Chesler also devotes entire chapters to her Afghan family coming and living in America, and her reactions towards the Sept 11 terror attacks of 2001. It is in this chapter that Chesler's passion for Afghanistan shines through. She clarifies, through her own understanding, the mindless fear and hatred expressed by the West towards all Muslims post-9/11.  

By balancing her arguments about Afghans (and Muslims in general) living in the West (in particular, America), the treatment of women, and the age-old debate of Islam-versus-infidels, An American Bride In Kabul reads less like a memoir and more like a thesis, especially with all the references to other books Chesler throws in.

While she tries to be as objective as possible, it is hard to ignore the fact that there are times in her memoir that Chesler's own cultural and feminist biases come into play, sending her arguments slightly askew. 

Though the title refers to a singular American bride living in Afghanistan, An American Bride In Kabul goes far beyond Chesler's personal experiences; it encompasses women worldwide, giving those without a voice a chance to be heard. 

While it comes across as very academic (particularly the second half), the book is, nevertheless, an engaging and well-written memoir that is both emotional and sends a powerful message.

Maybe One Day

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Every time I bury my nose in a book, it is as if I'm inviting someone to ask me the 5W1H questions: Where did I find the book? Why did I pick up the book? When did I pick up the book? 

Honestly, can't a girl just pick up a book without explaining herself to the entire human race? 

And so, with this I-just-want-to-be-left-alone expression clearly plastered on my face, I usually find myself answering those questions in a maximum of five words per sentence. Yes, without even bothering to look up at the person asking the questions. 

But this book deserves more than that. It deserves a page-long explanation about why I picked it up, but more importantly, why everyone should read it.

Reason one: This book has characters you can relate to, right down to their names. I know you know an Olivia. Or you know someone who knows someone who is an Olivia. Come on, one of my best friends is named Olivia! 

Not good enough? OK. There's also a Zoe, a Jake, a Calvin and a Stacy. Names make you relate to someone you know, however different the person may be from the character. And these names are common names, unlike some authors who choose to use exotic, alien-like, I-cannot-even-pronounce-them names. 

Coming back to the point, the characters are not only relatable, they are well-developed. 

First of all, there's Zoe, the teenager who got cut from the New York City Ballet along with her best friend, Olivia, aka Livvie. Their worlds revolve around dance and each other, and being cut dealt them a big blow. But they deal. 

Livvie, the nicer, more mature one, takes it in stride and even continues to teach dance classes, while Zoe tries putting the past behind her. 

From the beginning, it is clear that Livvie is Zoe's pillar – supportive, maternal and warm. Zoe is a sarcastic brat who, personally, got on my nerves a few times by being rude to everyone around her – and worst of all, it is all done in the name of "My best friend has cancer".

Then there are the parents. Zoe's parents are extremely understanding, patient and compassionate; at the same time, they know where to draw the line when their daughter starts lashing out at everyone because she's upset about Olivia's illness. I particularly appreciate this one chastising line Zoe's mother says: "Olivia's illness is a tragedy, Zoe, don't make it into a petty excuse." You go, mum! 

Reason two: Cancer. I remember when I came across this comic strip that said, "If you have a headache and Googled the symptoms, you'll find out you have cancer". 

As light-hearted as the statement may seem, most of us know first-hand what it is like to hear when someone you love, or know, is diagnosed with the dreaded Big C.

You will share Olivia's journey and frustrations as a cancer patient – the hospital visits, painful chemotherapy sessions, the time when she realises chunks of hair are falling out and the sickening horror when she has to come to terms with what might be a relapse. 

You will also share the roller coaster of Zoe's ups and downs. Yes, she is by turns selfish, grumpy and harsh to everyone around her, yet I couldn't help but admire her selflessness when it came to Livvie. 

She takes over teaching Livvie's dance classes even though it becomes a burning reminder of how she'd be cut from the New York City Ballet. She tries to be nice to Livvie's cheerleader friends, who are, frankly, annoying to the bone. And she organises a smashing birthday celebration for Livvie. If all this doesn't scream true friendship to you, I don't know what would ... which leads me to my next reason.

Reason three: Friendship it's a curious thing. It is something that can erode with time, and when you try to start a casual conversation with people you were once close to a few years back, you end up talking about the weather. Or food, if you're Malaysian. In short, it is a living thing that requires cultivation and nourishment or, inevitably, it will wither and die. 

But with Zoe and Olivia, you see a friendship that can and will withstand the test of time. 

To anyone who has a best friend, a loved one who has or had cancer, or even a pet dog who doesn't mind you bawling into its fur because you're upset, read this book. Believe me, there will be lessons learned, whether you realise it or not.


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