December 5, 2016

Recent Reads

171. Lester's Dreadful Sweaters
"Cousin Clara's cottage was consumed by a crocodile. Luckily, Cousin Clara wasn't in it."

When a picture book for young readers starts that way, you know that you are in for a fun ride. The only problem, as far as Lester is concerned, is that Cousin Clara comes to live with them, and brings along her knitting needles and is determined to knit him sweaters. Adults are often guilty of giving hideous gifts to kids, and Cousin Clara is no exception. What is poor Lester to do?

This is a cute, quick read with lovely art. I especially loved the expressions the dog had on his face throughout this story. As an Aunt myself, I was rather fond of Cousin Clara. Elementary school aged kids, who need to obey seemingly random decrees by adults, will empathize with Lester I think. Rating: 3 stars.

172. The Only Child
I'm not an only child, so while I did not experience that particular type of loneliness, every child surely feels lonely from time to time.

This wordless picture book is a lovely story of a lonely little girl who gets lost on her way to her Grandma's house, and a magical friend who helps her in her time of need. The black and white pencil drawings wonderfully evoke the dreamscape of childhood.

If you have yet to read this ode to childhood and imagination, move it up your TBR pile. Rating: 4 stars.

173. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye
I cannot summarize it better than Kenny Mah of the The Malay Mail, so will simply quote him:

“Part graphic novel, part art book, part narrative essay, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Malaysian-born, Eisner Award nominated comic artist and illustrator Sonny Liew is a look at Singapore unlike any other before. By reflecting on the life and work of a comic creator whose career spanned half a century, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye comments wryly on Singapore’s past and present while honoring comics as a storytelling medium.”

This is a staggering work from an incredibly talented author/artist, and I often forgot that Charlie Chan Hock Chye was not a real person in history, but an artist that the author created as a device to document Singapore's turbulent history. The versatility and range of artistic styles in this graphic novel are in of themselves worth the price of admission, and I learned some history along the way.

An NPR review:

The only reason I docked a star is due to my own shortcoming. I do not know much of the history described here, so there were moments of confusion as I tried to make sense of it all. With this graphic novel, Sonny Liew has raised the bar of what can be expected from this genre. Highly recommended. Rating: 4 stars.

174: Royal Assassin (Farseer Trilogy #2)
This, the second book in the Farseer Trilogy, should be subtitled "Boy Who Runs With Wolf." This is a very long book in which not much happens. I could summarize the plot in about ten sentences, the rest is just filler. The writing is good, and it's an easy read, but honestly why does it take so long for anything to happen? There are some really fun sections at the start and end, but almost the entire middle could have been condensed to about a hundred or so pages. Blah, Blah, Blah. And don't get me started on that ending. I'm all for strange magical systems, but honestly?!

Based on reviews, the final book in this trilogy is even worse. So here's my quandary. This is the first trilogy in the Elderings series of sixteen books, and I've heard that they get so much better as the series progresses. And yet the thought of another thirty of so hours to complete this first trilogy seems to be a heavy price to pay. So am thinking that I'll skip to the next trilogy in the set, and read the Wiki page to learn what I need to know. Yes, I heard that loud gasp, but honestly people, life is too dang short to waste time, so if anyone can sum up Assassin's Quest in a dozen or so sentences for me it'd be much appreciated. I'm moving on to Ship of Magic.

PS. I listened to the audiobook (almost 30 hours), narrated by Paul Boehmer. Rating: 2 stars.

175. Azores, 5th
"This is the only guide in English that provides details of travel and activities alongside in-depth background information."

That statement is true. I looked far and wide for a good travel guide for a recent trip to the Azores, and could not find anything. This one though is rather quirky, and the author is either a non-native speaker, or it was translated by one, because some of the way the it is written is unintentionally humorous. The in-depth background information seemed to overshadow the what to actually see and do portions of this book, and there is no sense of what is a must see/do, versus skip this one recommendation. Still, this was all I could get my hands on, and I did find it helpful in parts. Rating: 2 stars.

December 1, 2016

Cinemascope: Indian Summers (Season 2)

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

Related image

Released in 2016.

Plot line: The 10-part series returns to Simla in the summer of 1935, three years after the events of the first series. Paul Rutman, creator and writer of the series, said: "Our story moves forward three years, to a Viceroy’s last summer, a political gamble to stifle Independence and a great reckoning for Ralph, Alice and Aafrin."

This was originally slated to be a five seasons production, but it turns out that this will be the final season. I can understand why. It did take a rather soap opera-ish bent, but I for one enjoyed all the melodrama, and quite enjoyed the addition of the new characters to the cast.

You can see the season 2 trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a TV show worth watching.

November 28, 2016

Recent Reads

166. The Fair Fight
Someone described this book as Fight Club meets Jane Austen. I concur.

This story has lots of characters, but is told through three main narrators: two women and one man. I think many of the reviews and blurbs give away half the fun of discovering who these narrators are and how they will connect in the story, so all I'll say is that if you are a fan of historical fiction with a wonderful sense of place and gusty women move this to the top of your TBR pile. The writing is really good, one can almost smell and taste the place, the characters are fully fleshed out, the story compelling, and you'll want to read just one more chapter to see what happens next.

The only reason I docked a star is that for the first third of the book the same incidents are described from various points of view, so there is a bit too much repetition. This gets much better as the characters age, so maybe this was intentional on the author's part, but still it's a tad annoying.

I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Fiona Hardingham, Justine Eyre, Steve West. Their accents and dramatization added to the ambiance of the story, and I'd highly recommend you try the audiobook as well. Rating: 4 stars.

167. 5,000 km Per Second
Sometimes people come into your life, and you can't seem to shake them. Piero and Lucy meet as teens, go their separate ways, and then reconnect years later. This is a strange and melancholy story about people who are unhappy on some fundamental level, the years continue to pass, and roads taken and not are not what they would seem. I liked the watercolor settings in the various locations, particularly the backgrounds, but am not a fan of the how the people were sketched. Overall, I'm left with a moody feeling that seems to have no cause - and maybe that's the point of the book. Rating: 2 stars.

168. The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man
The Vision is a superhero, and not human, but he wants what most humans have - a family and to be ordinary - and as you'd expect him to do, he goes back to the lab and creates a wife, and twin children, and moves his family to the suburbs. What could possibly go wrong?

The art in this volume is quite fun and creepy, but the story line is rather weak. I liked the exploration of what differentiates humans from robots - much of Vision's theories are hilarious - and watching his family try to be normal was amusing. Still, not enough of a story to warrant a higher rating from me. Rating: 3 stars.

169. Saudade
I picked this one up to read in preparation for a recent trip to the Azores. In some ways it was exactly what I was looking for, and in other ways it missed the mark completely.

Ann Parker's life is falling apart, so she decides to spend an indeterminate amount of time in Pico, licking her wounds while continuing her genealogical search into her family's connection to the Azores.

What I really liked about this novel is the setting - place, history, traditions, the people, natural history, etc. Learning about the islands and the migrations of vast numbers of people to the US, including the Boston area, was fascinating. But then, about halfway or so through the book things started to get strange, and a fantasy element seeped in that had me shaking my head in disbelief. What was the point of that angle? I'll never know. Still, if you find yourself looking for a fictional story set in the Azores, I'd recommend the first half to two thirds of this one. Rating: 3 stars.

170. Doctor Sleep (The Shining #2)
At 15.0%: Oh Danny boy.
At 61.0%: Oh my goodness, but this is a page turner, so why do people insist on talking to me?

The end of sailing season means it's time to dive into another King tome, but I had such trepidation going into this one. How the heck does he top The Shining, and why even go back and re-visit those characters? I gingerly plugged in my headphones, took a deep breath, and set out for a long walk. It did not take King long to spin his magical yarn, and I was hooked.

There are loads of plot summaries out there, so all I'll say is that as usual King develops wonderfully creepy and/or deeply flawed characters, and while quite disturbing, this story is not as scary as The Shining. The plot and pacing are both really good in this one, and there are so many little touches that really help flesh out the story. However, as is my usual gripe with King, the girl/women characters in this one are not very well developed. Rose, the Hat, in particular, is rather two dimensional in a story otherwise peopled with interesting characters. After reading this one, you feel like you are all caught up on little Dan Torrance, and you'll never look at those old timers in their RVs quite the same way again.

I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Will Patton. If you've ever wondered whatever happened to young Danny T, get your hands on this one, buckle in, and enjoy the ride. Rating: 4 stars.

November 24, 2016

Cinemascope: Great Performances | Hamilton's America

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

Released in 2016.

Plot line: Hamilton’s America, the documentary film that brings history to vivid life through the lens of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pop culture Broadway phenomenon Hamilton – winner of 11 Tony Awards® and the Pulitzer Prize – explodes onto thirteen Great Performances, as the season premiere of the PBS Arts Fall Festival.

This is a behind the scenes look at the art and people responsible for this award wining musical. I loved it.

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

November 17, 2016

Inktober Part 3/4 (Video)

Week 3.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

November 10, 2016

Michael Moore’s “Morning After To-Do List”

Could not agree more. Why is it that we complain about the Electoral College every four years, and yet do nothing to fix it?

You can see his original Facebook post here.

Morning After To-Do List:
1. Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.
2. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn't let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must "heal the divide" and "come together." They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.
3. Any Democratic member of Congress who didn't wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that's about to begin.
4. Everyone must stop saying they are "stunned" and "shocked". What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren't paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all "You're fired!" Trump's victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.
5. You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: "HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!" The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don't. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he's president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we'll continue to have presidents we didn't elect and didn't want. You live in a country where a majority of its citizens have said they believe there's climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want a debt-free college education, they don't want us invading countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want a single-payer true universal health care system. None of that has changed. We live in a country where the majority agree with the "liberal" position. We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen (see: #1 above).

Let's try to get this all done by noon today.
-- Michael Moore

Cinemascope: The Knick (Season 2)

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

Image result for the knick season 2 poster

Released in 2015.

Plot line: Season 2 of the Emmy-winning drama, directed by Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh and starring Oscar-nominee Clive Owen as John Thackery, a brilliant but drug-addled surgeon who pushes the boundaries of medicine, morality and race in 1900s New York. Thackery’s absence (hospitalized for cocaine addiction), a lack of affluent patients and financial missteps have led to a decision by the hospital’s board to shutter the downtown location and move uptown. Algernon Edwards (AndrĂ© Holland) jockeys to become Thackery’s successor as Chief of Surgery, while fellow doctors, nurses, nuns and others grapple with personal and professional challenge.

This continues to be a gritty and fascinating show. Highly recommended for fans of medical dramas and historical fiction. I've never understood people who want to go back in time. Let's just start with the approved medical practices of the day. Sends shivers up my spine.

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

November 5, 2016

The art of being yourself | Caroline McHugh (Video)

Stumbled across this interesting talk the other day, and it gave me lots to think about.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

November 3, 2016

Cinemascope: Playing by Heart

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

Image result for playing by heart movie poster

Released in 1998.

Plot line: In this tale of how love binds 11 random people from Los Angeles, a married couple (Sean Connery, Gena Rowlands) prepare to renew vows; a widowed mother (Ellen Burstyn) cares for a dying son (Jay Mohr); a couple (Madeleine Stowe, Anthony Edwards) have an affair; a theater director (Gillian Anderson) strikes up a relationship with a stranger (Jon Stewart); an aspiring actress (Angelina Jolie) pursues a shy young man and a lone man (Dennis Quaid) talks of heartbreak to strangers.

I watched this oldie again recently, and love it as much as the first time I watched it. Really good acting and dialogue don't ever go out of style. Part of the fun is figuring out how all these people are connected.

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

November 2, 2016

Azores Island Hopping | Faial

25th anniversary trip got off to a rocky start with canceled flights, but here we are wallowing in beautiful Horta. #faial #azores #travel #marinadahorta #25down25togo

Enjoying that famous 'Azores High' with long rambles to get fab views of #Horta. #ilovetheazores #montedaguia

The views get better round every turn. I kid you not. #getoutside ##hiketheazores #montedaguia

Postcard snapshots. #snailmail #happymail

Lucked out with lovely weather for our final morning in #Horta. Even shy Pico shed her layers of clouds to grace us with her presence. Spent our final hours strolling again around #marinadahorta admiring the open air painting gallery. These are created by sailors who crossed the Atlantic, no small feat, and oh what tales they tell. #boats

October 28, 2016

Michael Moore Explains Why TRUMP Will Win (Video)

A reality check for those of us in a certain echo chamber.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

For more information on his take, read his post 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win.

Travel Art Supplies

Often times less is more. Here's what I took along on my recent trip to Las Vegas.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

Links to things mentioned in the video:
Vegas 2016 Traveler's Notebook 
IG: @kisiwa82

October 27, 2016

Cinemascope: What We do in The Shadows

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

Image result for what we do in the shadows movie poster

Released in 2014.

Plot line: A documentary team films the lives of a group of vampires for a few months. The vampires share a house in Wellington, New Zealand. Turns out vampires have their own domestic problems too.

No wait, trust me on this one. You don't have to be a Vampire buff to enjoy this. Really, trust me, This was an unexpected delight. I had no idea what to expect and laughed my way through the entire thing. I'm even laughing as I type this.

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

October 26, 2016

Inktober 2016 Part 2/4 (Video)

Most of this week's Inktober was done while on a trip, which is not a problem if you have a plan, and some basic art supplies.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

October 24, 2016

Recent Reads

161. Fatherland
Family histories are often complicated, and in this one a daughter tries to make sense of the choices made by her parents. Mom flees Canada and her abusive husband, returns to Yugoslavia and moves in with her parents. She takes along her two younger daughters, but is forced to leave her son behind. Press rewind, and we meet Dad before he met Mom, and get more insight into his life experiences. There are really troubling scenes depicted, and I actually cringed several times. Flash forward to Dad who has joined a terrorist organization, and we circle back to the beginning, and things that Mom did start to make more sense.

Children are so often the causalities of adult wars, and this graphic memoir is the family history of one family set against the politics of the Serbian Wars. I really liked the black and white art, and learned some history in the process. However, I don't think the author was able to mesh the two narratives really well, and so much seemed to simply be skimmed over. Still, this is a worthwhile read if you are unfamiliar with the history of that part of the world. Rating: 3 stars.

162. Panther
Christine is a young girl who lives with a her father, and when her cat Lucy dies, Christine is grief stricken. In the midst of her grief, something magical happens: a panther pops out of her dresser and tells her that he is crown prince of Pantherland.

Sounds like a sweet story right? Well, it starts out that way indeed, but then this graphic novel starts to take on sinister tones that are quite unsettling. Panther is a master storyteller and manipulator, and he soon has Christine totally enthralled with him.

When I started reading this one, I thought it was for kids, the art is whimsical and lovely, and the way that Panther is illustrated is marvelous. But this is not a kid book, though I think that kids reading it might not pick up on the sinister undertones of the story. I read that the author says that the story might be about the sexual abuse of a child, and I can see how it could be interpreted that way. That this explores the slow burn of an abusive relationship is not in doubt, and as an adult reader I was both sucked in and deeply disturbed with how the story unfolds. The illustrations work to set the right ambiance; that slow seduction and isolation and complete control of a child is especially chilling juxtaposed with those cheery colors.

I would recommend this one for adults and older teens, and if you've read it I want to discuss that ending. Rating: 4 stars.

163. The Nameless City (The Nameless City #1)
This graphic novel, targeted for middle grade readers, is the first in a series, and is a fun and quick read.

The story explores the notion of the conquered and the conquerors, and how they view and distrust each other. The two main characters, Rat and Kaidu, represent these groups to a certain extent, and it is fun to see how their friendship develops. I really liked that Rat is a young girl who has grit, is tough, and is shaped like a girl, not a sexy view of what society wants girls to look like. I really liked the first few pages that explain the title, and the art is fun and colorful.

I wanted a deeper exploration of the themes touched on - but then, I am much, much older than the target audience - and I do plan on recommending this one to my nieces and nephews. Rating: 3 stars.

164. Pereira Declares: A Testimony
I read the translation by Patrick Creagh.

One of the fun things about planning a trip is figuring out which books to read to help set the stage, and this one is near the top for books set in the Azores or Portugal.

This novella is light in terms of pages, but not in terms of ideas. Pereira is an aging, overweight journalist with a love of "omelette aux herbes" and lemonade, with lots of sugar. It's 1938, and Pereira writes the culture section of an evening paper in Lisbon, and yes the Spanish Civil War is going on, and yes he seems to have failed to notice the menacing cloud of fascism over Salazarist Portugal, but give him a break. He is a literate man with a passion for poets, and is after all only writing the culture section, he declares. He is not longer a journalist, and has no intention of sticking his head into places it does not belong. One day he meets a young man who propels his comfortable existence into unexpected trajectories.

It's hard to put into words what a delightful read this is. There is much rumination on poetry, and literature, and death, and the resurrection of the body, and other delightful rambles. The repetition of the title over and over is an interesting device, and this little book is a reminder that sometimes we are the heroes of our own stories. Rating: 4 stars.

165. How to Talk to Girls at Parties
I gather that this is a short story from a collection that the artists decided to make a graphic novel. In classic Gaiman style, this is a strange story of two teenage boys who crash a party filled with willowy, exotic, pretty girls. The narrator of this story is Enn, a fifteen year old who cannot seem to talk to girls, so what happens next?

Gaiman has some lovely lines about poetry and art, and the art by Moon and Ba is lovely, but I didn't care for the story. Rating: 2 stars.

October 20, 2016

Cinemascope: Where To Invade Next

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

Image result for where to invade next

Released in 2015.

Plot line: Filmmaker Michael Moore visits various countries to examine how Europeans view work, education, health care, sex, equality, and other issues. From cafeteria food to sex ed, Moore looks at the benefits of schooling in France, Finland and Slovenia. In Italy, he marvels at how workers enjoy reasonable hours and generous vacation time. In Portugal, Moore notes the effects of the decriminalization of drugs. Through his travels, we discover just how different America is from the rest of the world.

The thing about Michael Moore is that he is sometimes over the top, but he also shows us that the emperor really has no clothes, and I'll always love him for that. The topics covered in this documentary is something you won't see covered in the US mainstream media, and is something all Americans should be talking about.

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

October 19, 2016

Indie Icon Amanda Palmer Gets Real About Motherhood & Relevance (Video)

Have you been watching The What's Underneath Project? I'd highly recommend it. This one with Amanda Palmer just makes me admire her more.

“Feminism isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being honest,” says Amanda Palmer in the first episode of the Summer ’16 season of The What’s Underneath Project. The indie artist who turned the music industry on its head is now doing the same with motherhood by embracing her post-mom body and her fears of being insignificant."

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

October 17, 2016

Recent Reads

156. Sketching People: An Urban Sketcher's Manual to Drawing Figures and Faces
I'm a fan of this artist and her work, and I was delighted when this book was published. It shows how the artist captures her subjects, the tools and techniques she uses, and is filled with lots of her drawings. There is almost too much to soak up in my first reading, and this is a book I plan to revisit with watercolor pencils in hand. Rating: 4 stars.

157. My Name is Leon
This is the story of Leon. When we meet him, he is almost 9, his Mom has just had another child, and she is having a hard time with postpartum depression and alcohol. Things spiral downwards as you might expect, and social services steps in to take the two boys out of the house. Mom is no longer around/ capable of being a parent, so long term solutions must be found for the boys. The baby brother is adopted, because he is white and an infant, while Leon who is not either has the added trauma of being separated from his beloved brother.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I found the content to be quite emotional, but the writing is not good enough to really work. I really like that the story is told from Leon's point of view, and since he eavesdrops every chance he gets, we hear tidbits that fill in the gaps of what is going on in the larger backdrop of his family and 1980s British society.

The heartbreak of an abandoned and neglected child is something that is all too common, and stories like these that shed light on the plight of these kids are clearly important. Foster parents and social workers often go unheralded in their efforts, and I applaud the author in her efforts to give them their due in this story. All that said, I expected to love this one more than I did. Rating: 3 stars.

158. Mr Loverman
And the streak continues! Another five star read this year featuring a gay man, albeit a closeted one, and this one was written by a woman.

This story is about Barrington Jedidiah Walker (Barry to his friends), a seventy-four year old Antiguan living in Britain. He is a husband, father, grandfather, and has been cheating on his wife with his childhood lover Morris, for the past sixty years. Based on this description you would think that you'd dislike Barry, but you would be wrong.

There is so much I loved about this book. I appreciated the humor, the witty dialog, Barry's wisdom and insights into human nature, the exploration of being a gay man of color before all "this gay liberation stuff", the observations of being an immigrant in a country that does not want you, the challenge of raising children in a culture not your own, the ripple effects on the family caused by this double life ..... I could go on and on, but you really need to experience this for yourself.

This is mainly Barry's story, but we also get sections from Carmel's (the wife) point of view, and the juxtaposition of the two is fantastic. The language is wonderful, the story sucked me in and I could not wait to see what would happen next. I slowed down the pace of my reading as I got closer to the end, because I did not want to stop hanging out with the characters in this book. I loved every minute of this excellent book, and would highly recommend it.

I listened to the audiobook, which is superbly narrated by Robin Miles and Ron Butler. If you decide to read this one, I would highly recommend the audiobook version. The narrators have accents and a delivery style that added immensely to my enjoyment of this story. Rating: 5 stars.

159. Ghosts
This graphic novel is targeted for middle grade readers, and is my favorite of the author's books I've read to date.

This is the story of two sisters, Cat and Maya. Maya has cystic fibrosis, and the family moves to the coast of Northern California for her health. It's not that Cat does not love her sister and wants what's best for her, but moving to a new town and leaving all your friends is really tough, especially when you are a person who does not make friends easily. Also, the town they move to has ghosts, and while this delights Maya, Cat has no interest in meeting one, thank you very much.

I really liked the push/pull portrayal of the sister relationship, the celebration of culture and tradition, and the weaving in of death as a part of life. The art in this book is the author's best yet, and I especially love that the girls have bodies that look like girls. There is not enough depth in the story for this adult reader, but this would make a fun Halloween read for the tweens in your life. Rating: 3 stars.

160. Poetry Is Useless
I found this one both fascinating and frustrating. What is it? That's a good question. It is part sketchbook, memoir, travelogue, brain dump, and musings. There are parts that I loved, but so much of the text was unreadable - this either needed to be a larger format book, or come with a magnifying glass attached. I love the artistic style of his work, and this volume will certainly inspire you to pick up your sketchbook. Rating: 3 stars.

October 13, 2016

Cinemascope: Trumbo

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

Image result for trumbo movie poster

Released in 2015.

Plot line: In 1947, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was Hollywood's top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. Trumbo, recounts how Dalton used words and wit to win two Academy Awards and expose the absurdity and injustice of the blacklist, which entangled everyone from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) to John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.

I love movies that educate me about something I know little to nothing about, and this one especially timely. The acting is superb, and I enjoyed the setting and sense of place of this movie. People can sometimes act as sheep, and we often see/believe what we want to, and this movie is a reminder that all is not always as it seems.

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

October 11, 2016

Bring on the female superheroes! | Christopher Bell (Video)

I found this TED talk educational and thought provoking, and I think you will too.

"Why is it so hard to find female superhero merchandise? In this passionate, sparkling talk, media studies scholar (and father of a Star Wars-obsessed daughter) Christopher Bell addresses the alarming lack of female superheroes in the toys and products marketed to kids -- and what it means for how we teach them about the world."

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

October 10, 2016

Recent Reads

151. Incite 2, Color Passions: The Best of Mixed Media
Book blurb: 109 artists share their zest for color through painting, collage, encaustic, art journaling, jewelry art and more.

I liked this for what it was. It's like having a curated art exhibition in your hands, and reading a bit about what inspired the artists. Colorful and fun. Rating: 3 stars.

152. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story
A quote from the author's end notes: "Legal access to safe and effective methods of birth control made it possible for us to pursue our lives and dreams without being shackled by our biology. It's amazing the extent to which we now take this fact for granted, but I simply can't imagine a greater gift to humanity." I concur.

I'd heard of Margaret Sanger, but had no idea what a powerful, influential, controversial, and connected woman she was. Why is her face not on our currency? I remember reading a book titled Great Men and Women as a kid, and I hope that an updated version would include women like her. This graphic biography is a perfect introduction to this important historical figure, and while I am not a fan of the art, I was delighted to learn more about Sanger and her efforts and accomplishments. Rating: 4 stars.

153. A Single Man
I listened to the audiobook which is superbly narrated by Simon Prebble.

How is it that two of my five star reads this year are novellas by gay men about gay men? They would not even come close to passing the Bechdel test, and yet I loved them. I guess these books are considered classics for a reason.

I've heard much about the author over the years, not sure what specifically now, but his name seems to come up quite a bit, and I've been curious about his work. Decided to start here, and oh my goodness, I loved it from the first line to the last one. I actually listened to the last ten minutes a couple of times over.

First published in 1964, this is the story of George, a middle aged gay man, who is dealing with the sudden death of his partner (which happens off-screen, so to speak), and is determined to live life by his normal routines. This story unfolds over a twenty four hour period, and explores the textures of life with an honesty most of us reserve only for our private journals. I struggle to put into words why this moved me so. We are most flawed and beautiful when we are most human, and this story is an homage to this wonderful thing called life. Rating: 5 stars.

154. Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1)
Why is it that the "abandoned children who have to find their own way in the world" trope affects us so?

This is the first book in the Farseer Trilogy, which is the first of several trilogies in the epic Realms of the Elderlings fantasy series. I've heard such fave reviews about this series, so decided this was the summer to take the plunge.

The thing about the book blurb is that is gives too much away, so all I'll say is that this is the story of a royal bastard (I mean that literally), who is raised in the shadow of the royal household. The world he inhabits has magic, but discovering what forms it takes along with our young protagonist is half the fun. There is lots of action and adventure, scheming and betrayal, battles and bloodshed, friendship and loyalty, cowardice and bravery, and I thoroughly enjoyed how this story unfolded.

I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Paul Boehmer, and while I did not love the narration, I got used to it. I've got the rest of the books in this long series lined up, and look forward to seeing what happens next. Rating: 4 stars.

155. My Family and Other Animals (Corfu Trilogy #1)
If you know me, you probably know that I don't believe that every Tom, Dick and Sally should write a memoir, and I tend to be rather skeptical of this genre in general. Every now and then I stumble across a memoir that proves me wrong, and I am delighted to be proved wrong.

This is a lovely memoir of a family who leaves gloomy England and relocates to the sunny Greek isle of Corfu. Their (mis)adventures is relayed by the youngest member of the family, the author. Gerry is a keen observer of the flora and fauna that surround him, and his family gets as close an examination as everything else. The writing is wonderful, and I laughed out loud several times. I was once convulsed into a laughing fit that had me breathless and in tears. The rest of the time I was smiling and shaking my head with affection at the antics of this family.

There are some major things that are not explained - how for example the family could afford these adventures, how the author has such clear and vivid memories, etc. There are also some uncomfortable ways in which the locals and the Mom are described, but in the end I found that I really did not care. This lovely book is a throw back to the days of "free range parenting" (the kind I'll bet most of us over the age of 35 experienced), and is a wonderful recounting of both natural and familial history. Highly recommended. Rating: 4 stars.

October 9, 2016

Inktober 2016 Part 1/4 (Video)

I'm playing along with Inktober for the first time this month. Since I've got several trips planned in October, I've decided to use whichever journal I have on hand each day.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

October 6, 2016

Cinemascope: Shall We Dance

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

Released in 2004.

Plot line: Despite having a great career and a loving family, lawyer John Clark (Richard Gere) is missing something in his life as he meanders listlessly from day to day. On his commute back home one night, Clark notices a stunning woman (Jennifer Lopez) in a dance studio and decides on a whim to join a class for ballroom dancing. While Clark finds a new spark in his life, his wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), grows suspicious of his frequent absences, since he decides to keep his dancing a secret.

I've watched this movie several times, and each and every time I am delighted with it. If you are in the mood for a pick me up movie with great music, give this one a try. Also, if you have yet to see it, check out the original Japanese movie of the same name.

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

October 4, 2016

Journal pages

I always love to see where people create, so I'm sharing a work in progress spread in my #travelersnotebook insert.

The thing about making your own journals/inserts, is that you can customize the papers as you wish. This leads to some interesting creative hurdles to be worked through.

I also created signatures for a project I'm calling Use Up Your Stash. Below is a spread from that journal using drywall tape and acrylic paints.

September 26, 2016

Recent Reads

146. Clive Barker's The Thief of Always
I read an omnibus edition of this graphic novel that contained all three volumes, so I'll review them as a set here.

You know that saying, be careful what you wish for as you just might get it? This graphic novel is adapted from a book of the same name by Clive Barker, and I plan on reading that as well.

Harvey Swick is a bored little boy, and time seems to go by at a glacial pace. He wishes he could run away and have adventures. Then one day he meets someone who promises to take him to a place where all his wishes will come true. What happens when Harvey gets there, and the characters he meets is a fun read. The art is wonderfully evocative, and this would be the perfect story for young readers around Halloween. Spooky without being too scary. Rating: 3 stars.

147. Descender, Vol 1: Tin Stars
I really liked Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth and Trillium, and if you have yet to read those graphic novels, stop now and read those first. He knows how to tell a story with an emotional punch, and his art is very evocative of the mood he sets.

Based on his earlier works, I'd been waiting to start this new series until the second volume was issued, but there is something missing. It's a humans versus robots world, but the main thrust of the story is one I simply could care less about. What I love about this one is TIM-21, a young robot boy and his confusion upon waking up after a ten year nap, to find himself in a universe where all androids have been outlawed, bounty hunters lurk on every planet, and most importantly his human family missing.

Lemire does not really explore new territory (pun intended) with this one, and while I like the loose watercolor art, it takes a little getting used to. I like this enough to continue reading the series. Rating: 3 stars.

148. Descender, Vol 2: Machine Moon
This volume collects issues #7-11, and while the action picks up in this installment of the story, the dialog is uninspired and feels like place holder lines until the writer comes in to work. I'm also ambivalent about the watercolor artwork in this series. While it works really well for large scale scenes, it's rather too loose for close ups in my opinion.

I continue to love TIM-21, and the fact that his emotional setting is rather high compared to everyone else just makes me love him more. It's the people around him and their motivations that I could care less about. P.S. Could have told you who the masked dude was after the first two panels. Not sure if I'll continue with this series, though maybe I'll feel differently when the next volume appears. Isn't that the definition of insanity? Rating: 2 stars.

149. The Goblin Emperor
I listened to the audiobook which is wonderfully narrated by Kyle McCarley.

Having read several dark books lately, I was in the mood for some fun and light fantasy, and this book delivered just that. At about a third of the way in, I thought this would be a four star read, but then the plot starts to meander in unnecessary ways, and took too long to close.

This is the story of Maia, the forth half-elf/half-goblin son of the emperor, who has lived in exile his entire life. When there is already a heir and a couple of spares around, one does not expect to suddenly be Emperor, but this exactly what happens to Maia one morning. He has not been educated for this position, so has to be a quick study, and things proceed from there.

There is something about stories that feature abandoned/rejected/abused children who suddenly make good that cheers us immensely. Take a minute and thing about it - bet you can name at least a handful of stories you've loved with a similar premise. Like most of the books in that trope, this one is a feel good story that made me smile and root for our boy Maia. The world building is good, but the names of people, places, and ceremonies were ludicrous. It's as though the author threw darts at an alphabet board whenever she needed a name, and went with what the fates gave her. Thank goodness the narrator figured out how to say all those words. The only problem is that my brain kept thinking I was immersed in a new language, and worked very hard to learn it. {smile}.

As I mentioned earlier, the story does get rather too long winded, but if you are in the mood for a light fantasy tale you might like this one too. Rating: 3 stars.

150. The Girl on the Train
I recently saw the movie preview so decided it was time to read this much hyped book of last summer, and it unfolded as I suspected. I simply don't know why it is that a book loved by so many often does not resonate with me.

I really like the premise. Who has not sat on commuter trains, gone by the same houses, and wondered about the lives of people in those houses? Heck, I do that on late evening walks around my neighborhood. What I don't do is go totally nuts, which is what the main character in this story does. This all starts when she sees something that jolts her out of this fantasy world she created in her head about a particular couple in a particular house. She then proceeds to do things that are simply mind boggling, and what's more, everyone around her must have grown up in incredibly dysfunctional homes because they put up with her crazies. Honestly?

The story has three women narrators, and I usually find it interesting to see events from various points of view, but the writing voice for the three women is identical, so they all blur together. It was fairly obviously what happened early on, so I spent a long time waiting for the nutty one to figure things out in her nutty way. The writing is pedestrian, but the chapters are really short so it does make for a quick read.

There is not a single likable person, of either gender, in this story, but unfortunately none of them were fleshed out enough for me to push back on. A deeper dive into some of the experiences of the women in this story would have made this a much more compelling read. So yeah, not for me. I read this a week or so ago, and barely remember much other being annoyed most of the time. Rating: 2 stars.

September 22, 2016

Cinemascope: Meet The Patels

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

Image result for meet the patels

Released in 2014.

Plot line: This documentary is features an Indian-American man who is about and turn 30 gets help from his parents and extended family to start looking for a wife in the traditional Indian way.

This documentary is laugh out funny in places, and if you are either of South Asian descent, involved with a South Asian in any manner, or simply want to understand a culture through the particulars of one family's story, you have to watch this one. I was laughing and cringing, and even though I am not a Patel, we have a lot in common.

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

September 19, 2016

Recent Reads

141. The Drawing Lesson: A Graphic Novel That Teaches You How to Draw
This graphic novel has an interesting premise. Can you take the basics of how to draw, and incorporate them into a story? This book shows that you can. It's a cute story of a young boy who has a passion for drawing, and along the way the reader learns along with him the fundamentals of drawing. This would make a good introduction for young artists. Rating: 3 stars.

142. Lucky Penny
New Adults. Emerging Adults. Whatever you call them, this genre tends to deal with collage age-ish people and their woes and misadventures. I can see how this would appeal to many in a similar situation, but unless the story sheds some new light they don't work for me.

This graphic novel is about a young woman who loses her job, loses her apartment, and ends up living in a storage unit. The story is light and fluffy, and given some of the issues lightly touched upon, this would have been a much more interesting read if the author had dived deeper. The art is cute and manga-ish, with all those large eyes. A fast read that I will not remember having read in a week or two. Rating: 2 stars.

143. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (Delilah Dirk #1)
This graphic novel is about the swashbuckling (mis)adventures of Delilah Dirk. I especially like that the story starts in Constantinople and includes a Turkish angle. The art is good, and while I enjoyed all the action, I'm not sure that there was an actual plot. Still, this a fun read with an unorthodox heroine. Rating: 3 stars.

144. The Muralist
I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by Xe Sands, and I bailed about 32% in.

This story has so many elements that I usually love. It's a story with two time lines. The earlier one is set in the 1940s, and centers around a young painter in the days of the WPA, and her cadre of painters, who are household names today. The second story line is set in 2015 and centers around woman number one's grand niece. Painters, artists, missing people, authenticating artwork, the plight of Jewish refugees, etc. All these should have added up to something with more meat, but alas did not.

The writing itself is not bad, but the plot seemed to rely on the reader's emotional response to events surrounding World War 11, without the author earning those emotions, and that felt somewhat like cheating to me. There was not enough character development for me to know, or really care, about any of the people in this story, and they seemed to be generic stand-ins for historical figures. I don't have an issue with very specific stories that use war time or historical events as their backdrop, but the author must earn the emotions in the writing, and not simply move characters around while dropping clues that tell the reader what to feel.

On the plus side, this is the first that I'd heard about the history surround the MS St. Loius, and I plan to read more about it. Also, this book reminded me that I really should move a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt higher up my TBR pile.

This is the second book by this author that I have DNFed, both for similar reasons: books with a wonderful premise that do not deliver. Rating: 1 star.

145. Shelter
Someone close to me once said that he knew how to be a son, a husband, and a father, but not all at the same time.

I read this book in three sittings, and I don't recall a book that has so haunted my dreams in a very long time. The premise is a deceptively simple one: what does it mean to provide for one's family? It is what the author does with this question that makes this very hyped book deserve all the hype.

This is an example of a book that the less you know going in the better. The author explores so many themes really well in this slim novel. We get a look behind closed doors at a couple of marriages, parent - child relationships, and violence in various forms. There is much to ponder about humanity and yourself while reading this one, and you will not look at things the same way after you are done.

I really cannot say more without giving away things that are better discovered while reading it yourself. I docked a star because this is a debut novel, and it shows in parts, but I cannot wait to see what else this author uncorks in the future. Rating: 4 stars.

September 18, 2016

Vegas 2016 Traveler's Notebook - PreTrip (Video)

Here's the new journal I'll be using on an upcoming trip.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

Links to videos mentioned:
Creative Tip: Re-use Sticker Backing as Stencils
Turkey Travel Journal
Journal Tips

September 15, 2016

Cinemascope: Underground (Season 1)

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

Image result for underground tv show

Released in 2016.

Plot line: Underground centers on a group of slaves planning a daring 600-mile escape from a Georgia plantation. Along the way, they are aided by a secret abolitionist couple running a station on the Underground Railroad as they attempt to evade the people charged with bringing them back, dead or alive. As an aside, it is really wonderful to see so many people of color on the screen.

This is an interesting show, and while it has its flaws it is an interesting and disturbing show that looks at various angles surrounding a significant part of US history. History is an accounting of what happened as told by the victors, and it is always a good thing to balance the telling of it from various points of view. Injustice and oppression affects every single person in the sphere of their influence, not just the victims, and I think this show explores some of that as well.

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

September 12, 2016

Recent Reads

136. All Things Cease to Appear
I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Kirsten Potter.

The basic premise is that a man comes home one day to find his wife dead, and his three year old daughter alone in the house with said dead Mom. Who dunnit?

I knew within the first several chapters who did it, but was interested to see how the author would spin out the yarn. The writing is solid, the character development interesting, and the setting very atmospheric, but, and it a huge but, the plot itself lacked any drive. There were too many character points of view, many of which did not add to the story in my opinion. The supernatural touch was entirely out of context, and did not work at all. There were two things that kept me reading:

1. The exploration of how marriages can deteriorate over time and circumstance.
2. The manner in which the author addresses mental illness and the unraveling of a mind.

The final chapters of the book were rather predictable and completely unbelievable, and I might be the only person who liked the ending for the killer. This is quick summer read, and while I enjoyed it at the time, it has not stayed with me. Rating: 3 stars.

137. Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges Trilogy #1)
I listened to the audiobook, which is superbly narrated by Will Patton.

The final book in this trilogy was released recently, so decided to dive in. This is the first King I've read that is a detective story. I don't think he's done it before, and it shows.

The title refers to a person who used said car to plow through a crowd, killing and injuring many. The killer escapes. The protagonist is a retired cop, who is haunted by this unsolved crime, and is not handing retirement too well. The story goes back and forth between the cop and the killer, with a smattering of other characters to help flesh out the story.

In classic King style, this is a fast paced and fun ride. However, there is not much character development, there are so many implausible things that happen, and do not get me started on the ridiculous women characters. Does King really not know any woman who can parallel park a car? Sigh.

If you can ignore the flaws I've outlined above, this would make a good beach/airplane read. I've got the other two books on audio, and in spite of the superb narrator, I'm in no hurry to get to them at this time. Rating: 3 stars.

138. Hamilton: The Revolution
This Broadway musical hit is impossible to get tickets for, so I opted for the next best thing. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Mariska Hargitay. Lin-Manuel Miranda narrates his annotations at the end.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked up this audiobook, but what I got was a delightful back stage pass to the show's inspiration, creation, and production. Also included was a short biography of all the major players, both in the cast and those behind the scenes.

This is a really wonderful look at how work gets done, and if you are person who enjoys seeing how the art (or sausage) is made, you'll enjoy it too. What I did not expect was to be in tears at various points of the book. I've got the original cast soundtrack on deck to listen to next, and plan to read the biography by Chernow as well. Rating: 4 stars.

139. The Rook (The Checquy Files #1)
"The body you are wearing used to be mine."

That might well be one of my top 10 fave first lines ever. Imagine that you wake up with no memories, and then find letters in your pocket that inform you that you are now inhabiting the body of someone else, who sadly has been separated from it. What do you do?

This is clearly a case of the right book finding the right reader at the right time. I cannot even begin to explain why I enjoyed this one so much, as much of it is ridiculously over the top. It's like a Jason Bourne/ Harry Potter/ Men in Black mashup, and I enjoyed every minute of the ride. The story alternates between letters from the woman who used to inhabit said body, and the current day resident of the body as she tries to figure out what the heck is going on. The humor had me laughing out loud several times.

This is a fun romp of a read, and while it might not be for everyone, I'd suggest giving it a try. Rating: 4 stars.

140. The Geek Feminist Revolution
"There are many ways to silence a woman, and not all of them involve getting her to stop speaking. Sometimes it's enough to simply ensure all she speaks about is you."

If you are looking for a fun, fast read look elsewhere. I found this collection of essays educational and thought provoking. It is always interesting to see how the younger generation deals with feminist issues. The author takes on popular culture, and holds everyone, including herself, accountable. There are so many lines that I highlighted in this collection.

I deducted a star because there was a bit too much repetition in several of the essays, and some of the essays addressed issues faced by writers, particularly women in the science fiction and fantasy genre, and I'm not really the target audience for those, even though they were enlightening.

This is the first book I've read by this author, and I'll be trying some of her fiction next. Rating: 4 stars.