February 8, 2016

Recent Reads

179. American Vampire, Vol. 2
Book blurb: It’s Las Vegas circa 1935, and Skinner Sweet and our gal Pearl are about to learn the hard way that the bloodsuckers in Hollywood were nothing compared to what awaits them in Sin City. This volume collects issues #6-11.

I really like how this vampire story almost reads like historical fiction. A vampire nest in Vegas? Sure explains much no? I liked this one better than the first volume, though am still not enamored with the art style. We spend time with some new characters, and I really like the way actual historical events are woven into the plot. A fun and bloody read. Rating: 3 stars.

180. Exit Wounds
Book blurb: Set in modern-day Tel Aviv, a young man, Koby Franco, receives an urgent phone call from a female soldier. Learning that his estranged father may have been a victim of a suicide bombing in Hadera, Koby reluctantly joins the soldier in searching for clues.

The blurb above is what attracted me to this graphic novel, but unfortunately it did not really work for me. I'm not a fan of the art, and while I found the setting of Israel interesting, the story itself did not pull me in. There is no real emotional depth or pacing to this story, and the characters all seemed like cardboard cutouts who moved about the scenery. My fave parts were actually ones that showcased Koby's uncle and aunt, who are members of the supporting cast. Rating: 2 stars.

181. The Marvels
Book blurb: Two seemingly unrelated stories - one in words, the other in pictures - come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle's puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.

Don't let the almost 700 page count scare you away, as you can finish this book in one or two sittings. The first more than half of the book is like a picture book, no text, just wonderfully detailed black and white drawings. The story unfolds, ebbs and flows, and slowly, deliciously, a story forms in your head. The next section/story is all text, and while I liked it, I did not love it as much, though it is a really fast read, and important puzzle pieces fall into place. In the final section, we are back to the black and white drawings, and seriously people, if you find yourself not moved, you are probably one of those living dead.

These books are targeted at a tween/teen audience, and while this is the first book I've read by the author, it will not be the last. Rating: 4 stars.

182. Trillium
This graphic novel has some of everything: science fiction, romance, first contact, dystopia, and mythology. Our main characters are Nika Temsith, a botanist in the year 3797, and William Pike, an explorer in the year 1921. Oh, then there is the lost Lost Temple of the Incas. And a blue Goddess. Their paths will cross and they will affect each other in unimaginable ways. OK, I just realized that I cannot explain this one adequately, so you'll just have to read it.

One of the really wonderful things about the formatting of this graphic novel, is that sometimes you read the normal way, sometimes you have to read backwards, and other times you have to hold the book upside down. The story is a little on the weak side, and the Lemire draws his characters so they all look the same to me - thank goodness for differently colored hair, and clothing! Still, there is a wonderful freshness and poignancy to this one, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Rating: 4 stars.

February 4, 2016

Cinemascope: He Named Me Malala

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2015.

Plot line: After the Taliban tries to kill her for speaking out on behalf of girls' education, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai emerges as a leading advocate for children's rights and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

This documentary about Malala is done in an interesting way - it uses interviews, photos, and animated art to tell her story. As a documentary, it has flaws for sure, but it is hard not to come away inspired and heartened after watching this one. Girl power indeed. 

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

February 3, 2016

Why people believe they can’t draw - and how to prove they can | Graham Shaw (Video)

This just makes me happy. Pick up some paper and a pen and watch this entertaining TED talk.

Why is it that so many people think they can’t draw? Where did we learn to believe that? Graham Shaw will shatter this illusion – quite literally - in a very practical way. He’ll demonstrate how the simple act of drawing has the power to make a positive difference in the world.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

February 1, 2016

Recent Reads

175. The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss
The author inherits a "small and exquisite collection of netsuke. Entranced by their beauty and mystery, he determined to trace the story of his family through the story of the collection."

I decided to listen to the audiobook, which is well narrated by Michael Maloney, on a recent road trip. This book is part memoir, part biography, part history, part sociology, part travel writing, and part art history, and is nothing like I expected it to be.

As the book unfolds, we learn about the netsukes, about the wealthy Ephrussis family, about how members of this family intersect with the artists and royals of their time in Paris and Vienna. Then the Anschluss and World War 2 changes the family's fortunes and futures in ways that were incomprehensible and heartbreaking. And through all these times, we follow the netsukes as they move from one location to another, to another.

This should have been a 5 star read for me, but the entire middle of this book was rather dry and boring, I simply did not care enough about the family and their links to various famous people. It started out well, and I'm so glad I did not bail in the middle, because the sections of the book starting with WW2 and the final several hours of the book are brilliant.

I found parts of this book fascinating, and I really liked the exploration of the legacy of objects passed down through the family. Still, this will not be for everyone, and is not one I'd recommend. Rating: 3 stars.

176. The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2)
The audiobook is well narrated by Robert Glenister, but about 37% of the way through I find myself bored and uninterested in where this story is going. So bailing before I waste any more time on this one. Not for me. Rating: 1 star.

177. American Vampire, Vol. 1
This graphic novel volume collects issues #1-5.

I love vampire stories. Correction, I love gritty, Anne-Rice-style vampire stories. None of these ones that glitter in sunlight for me, thank you very much, so was delighted to discover this series.

The story unfolds via multiple story lines, the American Wild West, and Los Angeles in the 1920s, and recounts the origin story of the American vampire.

This should have been fantastic, but the story and art is not quite fully developed enough for my tastes. Still, a fun, if bloody (doesn't that go without saying?) story, and I've already got the next one in the series started. Rating: 3 stars.

178. Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout
This book is an illustrated biography of Pierre and Marie Curie, and be forewarned that the cover art glows in , the dark. It took me several moments to realize that I was not experiencing a paranormal event one dark night.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Marie Currie is someone I have been fascinated with since I was a kid, and it was fun to read about her again, and learn quite a few new interesting nuggets in the process. The art in this book is wonderfully evocative - ghostly and luminous, but towards the latter half of the book, there was almost too much text, and muddling of the main story line. Still, I liked it, and will certainly be reading other books by this author. Rating: 3 stars.

January 30, 2016

Elizabeth Lev: The unheard story of the Sistine Chapel (Video)

This TED talk hits all my sweet spots - a fun combination of art, history, travel and passion. Pour yourself a hot (or cold) beverage and enjoy.

The Sistine Chapel is one of the most iconic buildings on earth — but there's a lot you probably don't know about it. In this tour-de-force talk, art historian Elizabeth Lev guides us across the famous building's ceiling and Michelangelo's vital depiction of traditional stories, showing how the painter reached beyond the religious iconography of the time to chart new artistic waters. Five hundred years after the artist painted it, says Lev, the Sistine Chapel forces us to look around as if it were a mirror and ask, "Who am I, and what role do I play in this great theater of life?"

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 28, 2016

Cinemascope: A Little Chaos

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2014.

Plot line: In 17th-century France, King Louis XIV's chief landscape architect (Matthias Schoenaerts) makes an unusual decision to hire a woman (Kate Winslet) to create a lavish garden at Versailles.

I'm a Kate Winslet fan, so will watch anything she does. This one has the late Alan Rickman, who also directs. I'll be the first to admit that this movie does not live up to its potential, but the setting is lovely, and I love the feminist themes in it. If you are in the mood for a slow period piece, give this one a try.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

January 27, 2016

I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White. (Video)

Something we all know but so often forget.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 25, 2016

Recent Reads

171. The Song of Achilles
What you need to know about me before you read this review is that I am huge fan of Greek mythology and the Trojan Wars in particular. When there was a chance we would not be able to take a tour of Troy on a recent trip to Turkey, I was ready to declare war myself.

Now to this particular book. I'd read such rave reviews about this one that I was actually leery of picking it up. That so many people rated this book so highly makes me wonder if we read the same book.

This is the story of the Trojan War from Patroclus' point of view. He meets Achilles at a young age, and soon the boys become tightly bonded, and it is not a spoiler to say, then lovers. I liked how the author creatively filled in some of the gaps in the original story, but the writing is not good, the characters bland, and the story rather boring. How one makes the Trojan War boring is something that still stuns me. This read like a cross between a sappy romance and chick-lit novel, and while I liked how it started, the only reason I did not bail after about 50 pages was because I did enjoy visiting with Achilles, and all the other characters that I know so well.

So, while it won the Orange Prize and is loved by many, I am not the right audience for this book. There are many wonderful books written about the Trojan War, but this was unfortunately not one of them. Rating: 1 star.

172. Travels with Charley: In Search of America
I love travelogues. As Steinbeck says, no two people have the same journey, though our itinerary might be similar. We bring who we are to our travels.

I started this on a long road trip, which by the way is the perfect time to read about the author and his dog taking an American road trip, and the audiobook is well narrated by Ron McClarty.

The writing is direct without any flourishes, and I really loved how the memoir started. However it lost me somewhere about a third of the way through, and then it meandered in a manner that made no sense to me at all. While most pet owners can relate to the long conversations we have with our pets, we at no time share the content of these conversations with others. Steinbeck decides to let us in, and while there are some fun parts, it really sounds like the ramblings of someone who needs to get out more! This was first published in 1962, and the somewhat misogynist overtones did not sit well with me either.Thankfully, the last hour or so of the book gets back on track, but I do confess that the only reason I finished the book was because it was by Steinbeck.

I'd give this a 2.5 star rating, and will round up due to the wonderful opening sections of this story. Rating: 3 stars.

173. The Sketchbook Project World 
Blurb: Destined to go down as one of the era's most astonishing global art projects, the Brooklyn Art Library's Sketchbook Project has, in less than a decade, amassed more than thirty thousand sketchbooks submitted by people of all ages and artistic abilities from more than 130 countries.

Books like this just make me happy. This book is a curated set of pages from this project, and it makes me happy thinking about the wonderful ways people are creative all over the world. Yes, you could go online and look at the digitized pages, and I'd recommend that you do that, but sometimes you just want to hold a book in hand while you sip a beverage of you choice.

Not for everyone, but if you keep a sketchbook, or want to, check this one out and see if you don't get inspired to pull out your art supplies too. Rating: 4 stars.

174. The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking
Book Blurb: This gorgeous, fully illustrated handbook tells the story of sketchnotes--why and how you can use them to capture your thinking visually, remember key information more clearly, and share what you've captured with others.

There are things I liked about this book, and things I did not. I am a really good note taker (not bragging, this is just a fact), and I refer to my notes often. I am however not a visual note taker. I do not have sketches or diagrams in my notes. Arrows, and some key notations yes, but my pages do not look like a sketched flow chart.

This book highlights some of the various way to incorporate flows and sketches into your note taking, and if that works for you, or is something you'd like to try, this might be the perfect book for you. I found it too short and way too repetitive, though I did agree with the general premise, and liked the various example styles shown. Rating: 2 stars.

January 24, 2016

An Underwater Art Museum, Teeming with Life (Video)

So many things about these art installations make me happy.

For sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, the ocean is more than a muse — it's an exhibition space and museum. Taylor creates sculptures of human forms and mundane life on land and sinks them to the ocean floor, where they are subsumed by the sea and transformed from lifeless stone into vibrant habitats for corals, crustaceans and other creatures. The result: Enigmatic, haunting and colorful commentaries about our transient.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 21, 2016

Cinemascope: Mr. Holmes

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2015.

Plot line: Long-retired and near the end of his life, Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) grapples with an unreliable memory and must rely on his housekeeper's son as he revisits the still-unsolved case that led to his retirement.

I so enjoyed this quiet movie about an aging Sherlock Holmes. If you are Sherlock fan, you might take issue with the time frame of the movie, but honestly, I didn't care on whit about that. I quite liked the notion of an older Sherlock, who is struggling with early stages of Alzheimer's, and how the various threads in the story come together. If you are fan of period pieces, give this one a try.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

January 19, 2016

2015 December Daily Art Project (Video)

I had challenged myself to create art every day in the December, and I did it. As usual I love some pages in my journal better than others, but overall, am so pleased with the creative process and results. Below is a video of the completed pages and the supplies used. I'll be posting individual page photos with write ups in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 18, 2016

Recent Reads

167. Supreme: Blue Rose
This volume collects Issues #1-7.

I'll be the first to admit that most of the time I was reading this graphic novel I was clueless as to what was going on. There seemed to be stories within stories, and multiverses, but somehow I simply got lost, and could not find my bearings. Is that what the authors intended? So, not one I'd recommend, though I did find the art interesting. Rating: 2 stars.

168. The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition
Stephen King's novels are something of a tradition for me. I start and end each sailing season by listening to one of his novels, and they bookend my favorite seasons of the year. So, here we are at the end of the November, and I'm another King down.

I've heard about The Stand for ages, and have been saving it. What for? I sure as heck do not know, but clearly it was the right book right now. I decided to go with the audiobook of The Complete and Uncut Edition - might as get the full King effect right? The book is narrated by Grover Gardner, and he gets five stars for this one, which clocked in at just under fifty hours.

What's it about? A super flu wipes out most of the people in the United States, and probably the world. The survivors in the US are gathering into two large groups, and a show-down of sorts is in the cards.

I love how King writes. He is a natural yarn spinner, and he skillfully creates people and situations that grab a hold of you, and don't let go. I love how he weaves supernatural events into the natural world order so seamlessly, that he makes the hairs rise on the back of your neck. The ancient story of Good versus Evil gets the King treatment here.

You know what I did not love? The lack of developed women characters. Every single woman was somehow defined by how fuckable she was to the men around her. What about Mother Abigail you ask? Do not get me started on the "magical negro" trope. So, no interesting women characters, but as least there were women survivors. The same cannot be said for people of color. Sigh.

Clearly I had issues with this one, and it is particularly annoying because King has written wonderful women characters in novels like Dolores Claiborne and Misery. If you have yet to read those, do. Still, this has been a really fun ride, and I enjoyed every minute I was not annoyed with Mr. King, and that is why it gets as high a rating as it does.  Rating: 4 stars.

169. What We See When We Read
Book blurb: A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading - how we visualize images from reading works of literature. What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like?

This book clocks in at 425 pages, but don't let that scare you away, and is a must read for anyone who loves to read. It explores what happens in our brains when we read novels, especially as it relates to the characters on the page. How much does the author really tell us, and how is it that we feel like we know certain characters so intimately?

The book itself is chock-full of drawings, maps, diagrams, and images to help illustrate the point the text is making, and it can be read in a couple of sittings, though I took my time with it to let things really sink in.

This book made me really think about, and examine how it is that I create worlds and characters in my head, and I have no doubt that this is one that I'll read again once I've had time to marinate on this first reading. Rating: 4 stars.

Marvel 1602

Book Blurb: Neil Gaiman presents a unique vision of the Marvel Universe set four hundred years in the past. Classic Marvel icons such as the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and Daredevil appear in this intriguing world of 17th-century science and sorcery, instantly familiar to readers, yest subtly different in this new time. Collects issues #1-8.

Holy Molly, but this is such a fun read. I love both historical fiction and graphic novels, and this combines them in such a creative way. Not only do we meet some of the superheros before they they arrived in the Americas, but the story is set in Elizabethan England, and the art is wonderful. 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Neil Gaiman rocks the graphic novel genre. Rating: 4 stars.

January 16, 2016

Adele Carpool Karaoke (Video)

I did some really hard things this week, and this video made me smile. Just what I needed.

While home in London for the holidays, James Corden picks up his friend Adele for a drive around the city singing some of her classic songs before Adele raps Nicki Minaj's "Monster."

If the embedded video does not work, https://youtu.be/Nck6BZga7TQ.

January 14, 2016

Cinemascope: Mad Max: Fury Road

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2015.

Plot line: Years after the collapse of civilization, the tyrannical Immortan Joe enslaves apocalypse survivors inside the desert fortress the Citadel. When the warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the despot's five wives in a daring escape, she forges an alliance with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a loner and former captive. Fortified in the massive, armored truck the War Rig, they try to outrun the ruthless warlord and his henchmen in a deadly high-speed chase through the Wasteland.

Remember the Mad Max days of old? Well, this ain't them. The franchise has an updated Cirque du Soleil vibe and effects, and Charlize Theron is wonderful as the bad-ass Furiosa. This movie has great special effects, almost no dialog, and very little in terms of actual plot, but it is a visually fun (if violent) way to spend a couple of hours.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

January 13, 2016

Chris Abani: On humanity (Video)

The power and value of a good storyteller is something we do not often appreciate. This talk moved me and made me cry. A heads up that while there is humor, there he also talks about tough things.

Chris Abani tells stories of people: People standing up to soldiers. People being compassionate. People being human and reclaiming their humanity. It's "ubuntu," he says: the only way for me to be human is for you to reflect my humanity back at me.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 11, 2016

Recent Reads

163. Crenshaw
Book blurb: Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

"Imaginary friends are like books. We're created, we're enjoyed, we're dog-eared and creased, an then we're tucked away until we're needed again."

This is a sweet story about a tough topic, and the tone is just right for middle grade (8-12 year old) readers. The chapters are really short, and there is just the right mix of tough stuff and humor, however as an adult reader, I felt at more of a remove from the story.

I would recommend this as a way into exploring these themes with kids, and it would make a good read-aloud/discussion book. Rating: 3 stars.

164. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova
The world is big.
Anna is small.
The snow is
and all around.
But one night . . .

See how wonderfully this picture book for kids starts? I love the idea of biographies that little kids can read, but this one had text that was too bland and boring, especially considering that it was a biography of the ballet star Anna Pavlova. The art however is wonderful and folksy and conveys a fairy tale mood that works well.

I'd rate the text 1 star, and the art 4 stars, so that's a 2.5 average, that I'll round down as I disliked the text so much. Rating: 2 stars.

165. Humans of New York: Stories
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ― Plato

This book is collection of photos and text lifted from a very popular blog, and I had such fun dipping in over the course of several days. I was reminded of the Plato quote, and found myself falling in love with humanity all over again.

If you have yet to check it out, I would highly recommend the Humans of New York (HONY) blog or Instagram feed to get a daily fix. Rating: 4 stars.

166. An Unnecessary Woman
Book blurb: Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, Aaliya is her family’s "unnecessary appendage.” Every year, she translates a new favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away.

I read this one for my book club, and I don't even think I can put into words how much I loved it. Yes, it is "a love letter to literature and its power to define who we are," and yes, it is a "breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman’s late-life crisis," but honestly I struggle to explain myself.

There are sentences like this:

"The children grew up embarrassed, if not horrified by their mother. She was so desperate for each of them to have a better life that she raised them not to have a place for her in it. She shows up at all their events and gatherings, incredibly proud of them, and they ashamed of her."

The book is littered with sentences and observations that made me stop and take a breath, and then re-read, all the while shaking my head at how finely the author (a man) is tuned-in to a woman's inner life.

When I first started this one, I was dismayed by all the author name dropping; was this another intellectual showing off his muscles? But once I got past the first twenty or so pages, I realized that there is a purpose to the names dropped. I'll confess that I did feel at times that I was reading this book without taking a prerequisite class, and there are many references I simply did not get. Oh, but entire universes opened up with the ones I did.

A note on the reading medium: I read this one in print form. I had the audio, but found that I needed to pause and re-read, or simply shake my head in wonder too often for the audio to be effective.

I found a reader who complied a list of the authors and books mentioned, so my TBR pile has expanded exponentially, and I have little doubt that I'll be reading this one again at some future point.

This beautifully written novel is indeed an ode to literature and readers, and is quite a feminist novel to boot. The majority of my book club loved it too, and the fun and lively discussions this one sparked was worth of price of admission. Rating: 5 stars.

January 9, 2016

Robert Waldinger: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. (Video)

Something we all already know, and yet somehow forget again and again.

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it's fame and money, you're not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you're mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

January 7, 2016

Cinemascope: When Marnie Was There

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2014.

Plot line: Sent from her foster home in the city one summer to a sleepy town by the sea in Hokkaido, Anna dreams her days away among the marshes. She believes she’s outside the invisible magic circle to which most people belong – and shuts herself off from everyone around her. Anna never expected to meet a friend like Marnie, who does not judge Anna for being just what she is. But no sooner has Anna learned the loveliness of friendship than she begins to wonder about her newfound friend.

I love Japanese animations, and I loved everything about this girl centered story. The art is wonderful, the story really good, and the main character Anna, is someone I will think about for a long time. This is the story of love, loss, friendship, and art, and would be a great one to watch with the little ones in your life as well.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

January 4, 2016

Recent Reads

157. The Screaming Staircase
Book blurb: For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

I've read this author before, and am a huge fan of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, so decided to try some of his newer work. This one sounded promising and perfect for Halloween week, but I found it boring and after 60 pages decided to quit. This book is targeted for the middle grade/ high school reader, but unlike my beloved Bartimaeus, this one is missing that magical touch. Rating: 1 star(Did Not Finish).

158. Blacksad
Book blurb: Private investigator John Blacksad is up to his feline ears in mystery, digging into the backstories behind murders, child abductions, and nuclear secrets.

This graphic novel collects three stories, and if you are a fan of mystery/crime/noir stories, you'll really like this one too. The stories are multi-layered and complex, and I loved the art. It's not that these are anthropomorphic animals, it's that the authors use animal faces, bodies and expressions to wonderfully highlight the essence and individuality of humans. Also note, that in spite of all the animals, this is one for adults only. Rating: 4 stars.

159. Alex + Ada, Vol. 1
Book blurb: The last thing in the world Alex wanted was an X5, the latest in realistic androids. But after Ada is dropped into his life, he discovers she is more than just a robot. Collects issues #1-5.

I am conflicted about how I feel about this book. I liked the art, the futuristic setting, and the notion that humans are surrounded by robots of various skills and types. What annoyed me is that yet again, the most interesting ideas and concerns surrounding AI are wrapped up in a sex toy. Really guys? Is that really what people (read men) think about regarding bots - how they might have a sex slave who is not only programmed to obey every command, but is sexy with a barbie doll body?

This story has potential though, and I've got the next two books of the trilogy on my nightstand. Keeping fingers crossed. Rating: 3 stars.

160. Alex + Ada, Vol. 2
This volume collects issues #6-10.

As in the first volume, there are interesting themes that could be explored but are not. This almost reads like the sugary sweet romance novels I read as a teen, and I am not pleased with the way the story played out here. Bots that are cute and made of sugar and spice do not interest me, but based on the rave reviews this series gets, there are loads of people who love it. I've got the final volume in hand, but at this point do not have high hopes. Rating: 2 stars.

161. Chew, Vol. 2: International Flavor

This volume collects issues #6-10.

Okay, this volume settles it for me. I was hoping that the plot and characters would be better developed, but disappointingly they were not. There is not enough meat on the bones of what is a fabulous premise for me, so have bailed on the rest of this graphic novel series. I actually had the next four volumes in hand, and have returned them unread to my library. Don't you just hate when that happens? Rating: 2 stars.

162. Alex + Ada, Vol. 3 

Collects issues #11-15

This is the final book in this graphic novel trilogy, and unfortunately my low expectations were met. Old tropes are recycled with no new light or angle shed on them, and I simply did not care what happened. As for the end? Puhlease. Rating: 1 star.

January 1, 2016

2015: My year in books

'Twas a good year indeed. Bring on 2016.

You can see an overview of my reading year here.

Stay tuned for my best reads of 2015.

December 31, 2015

Cinemascope: Home For The Holidays

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 1995.

Plot line: Claudia Larson is a single mom who has just been fired from her job as an art restorer due to budget cuts. She flies from Chicago to spend Thanksgiving at the Baltimore home of her parents, Adele and Henry Larson, while her only child Kitt decides to stay home and spend the holiday with her boyfriend. Kitt informs Claudia that she intends to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time. The family gathering also includes Claudia's resentful, conservative sister, Joanne Larson Wedman, her stuffy banker brother-in-law Walter and their two spoiled children. Also there is Claudia's gay brother Tommy and his new friend Leo Fish, along with their eccentric Aunt Glady. While Claudia greatly enjoys Tommy's company, the rest of her family seems to plague her with familiar tension. Meanwhile, Joanne is straining to keep the festivities ordered and traditional.

Families are all crazy in their own unique ways, and after spending a week with family recently, this was a fun movie to watch again. Wonderful acting by an great cast with superb direction by Jodie Foster, this is one that holds up after all these years, and is one I watch once a year.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

December 28, 2015

Recent Reads

153. The Conference of the Birds
This is essentially a picture book; an illumination of the twelfth-century Persian epic poem that tells the story of a flock of birds in search of the true king, Simorgh, who lives on the mountain of Kaf.

I read someplace that this was a classic poem, but I had not heard of it before, and did not particularly love it. But oh the art. The art is simply stunning. Each and every page would make a wonderful poster or card. This book is worth picking up just to soak up the art. Rating: 3 stars.

154. Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story
This graphic memoir tells the story of how the author, Fred, met Cati at a party. Time passes. They meet again, and this time connect. As their relationship deepens, Cati tells Fred that she and her three year old son are HIV positive. 

Relationships between people are ever so personal, and yet there are universal themes we can all relate to. I really liked the honesty in the telling, and while the black and white brushwork evokes the right mood, I did not love the art. I also think there might be things lost in translation as the language seems clunky in parts. Rating: 3 stars.

155. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir
Book blurb: Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment.

This graphic memoir is targeted at a teen audience, and is a sweet and angst filled story of the summer that the author fell in love for the first time - wait for it - with a camp counselor who is a girl.

I liked the story, the honesty of it, but was not particularly enamored with the illustration style, especially those strange round empty eyes.
 Rating: 3 stars.

156. Chew, Vol. 1: Taster's Choice
Book blurb: Tony Chu is a detective with a secret. A weird secret. Tony Chu is Cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. This volume collects issues #1-5.

I love the premise of this graphic novel series - how can one not love the idea of a Cibopath? I also love that Tony is not your typical Asian American, and that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is the most bad-ass crime fighting organization in the US - maybe our current FDA will be inspired by this series. 

The story is set in a post apocalyptic world of sorts where a bird flu wiped out large swatches of the human population. Since then chicken is outlawed - but you just know there is a black market for all things chicken.

This is a fun and rather violent story, but it does not quite deliver on the promise of such a great premise. The characters are not well fleshed out, and there is a bit too much wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am to the pacing of the story, and I do hope that the rest of the series (which I have requested) delivers. A word of caution, do not read this while eating. Trust me. Rating: 3 stars.

December 25, 2015

December 21, 2015

Recent Reads

150. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 5: Unnatural Habitats
The fifth installment in this graphic novel series collects issues #26-32.

Unlike the previous books in the series, this one does not start by picking up where we last left our merry band of travelers. Instead, we get an entirely new story line, one set in 1911 Alaska. It's a first contact story - a trope I love, and while I did not love the art in this section as much as the rest of the book, it was interesting to learn some of the mythology behind the mysterious plague.

But what does all this have to do with Gus, and the rest of the gang? Read it and find out. I've got the last book in hand as I type. Rating: 4 stars.

151. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 6: Wild Game 
The sixth and final installment in this graphic novel series collects issues #33-40.

Everyone is in Alaska. The gang is all here, and you just know that an epic showdown is in the cards.

I am often disappointed with how a series ends. So many of them lose their steam along the way, so was braced as this one drew to a close. Imagine my surprise when I found a satisfying ending.

I'd highly recommend this graphic novel series to fans of apocalyptic fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, animal lovers, and environmentalists. So basically anyone with a heart. Zombies need not read this one. Rating: 4 stars.

152. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Book blurb: One hundred thousand years ago, at least six human species inhabited the Earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust money, books, and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism?

Stop for a second and think about the scope of this book. Yes, the author clearly has done immense research, but it is his ability to weave all that research into a narrative that reads like a fast paced thriller that impresses me. This is narrative non-fiction at its best. The book weaves in anthropology, biology, chemistry, sociology, history, philosophy, politics, religion .... no that's not it, I'm just tired of typing.

I was educated, entertained, and had my mind blown by some nugget in almost every chapter. How often can one say that? The audiobook is superbly narrated by Derek Perkins, and I've spent the past month or so immersed in changing my mental maps of the world as I know it.

I am not a re-reader, but I have little doubt that I will read this fantastic book again. Highly recommended.
  Rating: 5 stars.

December 19, 2015

Marina Abramović: An art made of trust, vulnerability and connection (Video)

Here is something that moved me this week. What moved you?

Marina Abramović's art pushes the boundary between audience and artist in pursuit of heightened consciousness and personal change.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

December 14, 2015

Recent Reads

146. Speak
Book blurb: In a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive. 

This book gets pitched to David Mitchell fans, and I think if you go in with that expectation you are going to be disappointed. It's good, but not great. There are five interconnected stories, some told in the form of journal entries, some as letters, some as court transcripts, and as the story unfolds in five parts, we learn more about the characters and how they are connected. 

There are interesting themes explored in this book: what does it mean to be human? Can an AI be considered alive? Classic Turing Test stuff. However, while the writing is really good in parts, the story as a whole did not really work for me. There were characters I found more interesting than others, and I liked that the author seemed to have distinct voices for each character, but I found myself not particularly caring about where the story was headed. 

This is a great idea that falls short on delivery. Still, it's an interesting read, but get the Mitchell comparisons out of your head before you start this one. Rating: 3 stars.

147. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 3: Animal Armies

Book blurb: In this third volume, Jeppard begins to form an army to topple the militia camp so he can rescue Gus and the other hybrid kids. But will he arrive too late to save anyone? This volumes collects issues #12-17.

This is the third installment in a six part graphic novel series. We seem to have reached the middle of the story, when things pivot in a different direction, so there is more setup to be found here. I really loved the art at the start of this one - there are wordless pages telling us one story line, and then panels on the bottom of each page recounting Singh's journal. Very cool technique.

I continue to really enjoy this story, and have the rest of the series in hand, so I predict binge reading on my horizon. Rating: 4 stars.

148. The God of Carnage

I really liked the movie Carnage, which was an adaptation of this play, so decided to go to the source material. This short play is a wonderful read, and works best if read on one or two sittings. 

I'd suggest not reading the blurbs on this one before picking it up. All you really need to know is that the play is about two sets of parents who meet to deal with the behavior of their children. The entire play unfolds during this one meeting. To 
say more would spoil it for you, so I'll stop there. Rating: 4 stars.

149. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 4: Endangered Species

The fourth installment of this graphic novel series collects issues # 18 - 25, and this story just gets better with each installment. How often can one say that? 

I'm not a huge fan of character back stories, as they are often not well done. In this case however, we get glimpses into the previous lives of the women members of our merry band, and the flashbacks are wonderfully illustrated by three guest artists - an inspired idea by the author.

Our travelers are headed North to Alaska, and as you all know, no road trip ever goes as planned. Strangers are met, and deciding whether they are friend or foe will have huge implications going forward. 

I continue to love this series, and cannot wait to see what happens next. Rating: 4 stars.

December 12, 2015

"Strangers Drawing Strangers" at the Airbnb Haus (Video)

This just makes me happy.

Ivan Cash introduces "Strangers Drawing Strangers," an interactive art installation inspired by his Selfless Portraits project, in the Airbnb Haus at Sundance Film Festival 2015.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

December 10, 2015

Cinemascope: Indian Summers

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2015.

Plot line: Set in a subtropical paradise during the twilight era of the British Empire, Indian Summers explores the collision of the ruling class English with their Indian subjects, and the intricate game of power, politics, and passion that ensues. Told from both the English and Indian perspectives, the drama of Indian Summers unfolds as illicit agreements, romance, and revolution abound. Though the English socialites are having the time of their lives in Simla, the local Indians have started to call for national independence, a path which is quickly rendering the world’s greatest empire helpless. As pressure builds, the two sides alternately clash and merge in a passionate and dangerous game.

There are not many beautifully produced shows that have so many South Asians in the cast, and it is quite fun to watch one that does. Though, fun is not exactly the right word to use I suppose, as this is set in the time of the British Raj, and the casual and ubiquitous racism and sexism is rather breathtaking. I have to keep reminding myself that is a period piece, and let the story unfold as it will. I'd recommend this one for fans of Downton Abbey or PBS/BBC Masterpiece productions.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is TV worth watching.

December 7, 2015

Recent Reads

142. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth
Book blurb: Before our history began, another now forgotten civilization thrived. The people who roamed Early Earth were much like us: curious, emotional, funny, ambitious, and vulnerable.

If you are fan of myths and fairy tales, I'd highly recommend this lovely graphic novel. The stories are fun, and the art wonderfully folk artsy (is that a word? Is now).

This is the story of a storyteller, his creation, his travels and adventures, and his search for a missing part of his soul. And what is a quest without a love story thrown in? He travels to strange lands with strange customs, and like the traveling bards of old, enthralls all he meets with this stories. While all this is happening on Earth, we also get an inside look into the Birdman god and his dilemmas. 

I'm fascinated by creation stories, and while this collection certainly does not cover stories from all the cultures, it is a delightful read. Rating: 4 stars.

143. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods
I've loved Saga and Ms. Marvel so much that I've broken the promise I made to myself to only start a book when a series is completed. And as expected with those aforementioned graphic novels, I'm now all caught up and wondering if the author is sitting down and writing, or wasting time gallivanting about town. So, you know I made dang sure that this was a completed series before I started on this graphic novel.

This series has been labeled as a cross between Bambi and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Well, I loved Bambi (though was traumatized), but did not love McCarthy's The Road, so was not sure how I'd feel about this story.

What's it about? A post-apocalptic world, where a pandemic that occured a decade ago resulted in a new breed of human/hybrid children. This is the story of one such child, Gus, who lives in isolation with his father. He has been warned not to ever, ever leave the woods. Well, we know how often kids listen to their parents about such warnings.

This graphic novel is wonderful. The author does a good job of world building, and the art is really good. I was swept along for the ride, and cannot wait to see what happens next. This is the first of six volumes, and I've already requested the rest of the series. I see some binge reading on my horizon.
  Rating: 4 stars.

144. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 2: In Captivity
This volume collects issues 6-11.

This installment gives us Jeppard's back story, fleshes out his character, and puts some of his actions in the previous volume into perspective. Meanwhile, Gus is not in a good place. I cannot say much more without spoilers, but if you have yet to read this graphic novel series, I'd highly recommend it. It makes for perfect Halloween reading. Rating: 4 stars.

145. Station Eleven
Oy veh! This was my book club selection for the month, and if not for that I would have bailed on it fairly early on.

This is yet another example of a "literary" author writing genre fiction, and this book fails on so many levels, I'm not even sure where to start. How can a book be labeled as Sci-fi when there is absolutely no Sci in it? The character development is so flimsy that you can almost see through them. This is a version of a post apocalyptic world I can only attribute to Canadian sensibilities. Oh, don't throw your rocks at me Canada. All I mean is that you are so nice a people that your version of dystopia is what the rest of us might call utopia.

So the basic premise is that a flu wipes out 99% of the world's population. Sounds good right? Well, seems like those left behind might still be alive but had lobotomies in the process! Come on - not a person left alive knew how to work any machines? If I read how gasoline goes bad one more time I was going to hit something. You do not need to be an engineer to figure things out, all you'd have to do is walk into your local library (remember, only people were affected), and, I don't know, oh maybe read a book. And do not get me started on people living in airports for 20 years. And that's another thing. If the time frame was say 500 years later, maybe things might not work, but 20 years later? Puhlease.

So, clearly based all the rave reviews and awards this book received, I am not the right audience for it. My book club was unanimous with a thumbs down rating. Is there nothing I liked? There is some beautiful writing, and that last chapter or two where Arthur's final day is played back is the best writing in the book, and would make a superb short story. Rating: 1 star.