July 17, 2017

Recent Reads

73. The Liszts
This children's picture book is about a family that makes lists. Everyone, including the cat, makes lists particular to their own interests. One day a stranger who is not on anyone's lists appears. Who is he and what does he want?

I really like the art and color palatte in this one, and the story is cute, but there are unresolved questions in my mind. Why were Sundays listless and who is that stranger? I did like the connection the stranger made with Edward, the middle child. If you are part of the "listers gotta list" part of the population, you'll appreciate the gentle humor in this one. Rating: 3 stars.

74. Ethel and Ernest
This graphic memoir/ biography is about the author's parents from the time they met in the 1920s until their deaths in the 1970s. Ethel worked as a chambermaid, Ernest a milkman, and this is the story of their life together during the large and small political and social changes of their day in Britain.

I loved the art and colors in this one, and was delighted by the clear affection the author has for his parents. It was fun to read about the couple's dynamics, and this is a wonderful tribute to them.

The reason this does not get a higher rating is that this is a very specific story about a certain, albeit lovely, couple, and I'm not sure why anyone not family would really care about them. I gather that the author is a much loved children's author, so maybe if this would work better for fans of his work. I know that this is a perpetual issue I have with these types of books, and I didn't know the premise when I picked it up. Still, it's a fast read, and the art is lovely. Rating: 3 stars.

75. Boat of Dreams
This wordless picture book would work equally well for both children and adults. The art is stunning, and I could look at each page for hours. Since it's wordless there are many possible interpretations of the story. There's an old man and a young boy. Are they the same person in different time? Did one imagine, create, or dream up the other? Could the man be re-discovering memories he had forgotten? What is the relationship between art and isolation and distance? Try it and see what story plays in your head. Rating: 4 stars

July 10, 2017

Recent Reads

70. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Book blurb: The story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

I'm a fan of sport histories, regularly attend the Head of the Charles Regatta (the largest 2-day regatta in the world, with 11,000 athletes rowing in over 1,900 boats in 61 events), and actually spent a day once in a single person scull, so I fully expected to enjoy this book.

The premise is outlined in the blurb above, and this book is an example of narrative non-fiction that is a page turner of a read. I really liked learning about lives of the boys, their families, the boat builder, and the coaches. Anyone who has played a sport knows full well that the work, commitment, and sheer grit needed to be a world class athlete is beyond most of us, and in this book we get some insight into why. As much I enjoyed the buildup to, and the races, I really appreciated that the author placed these individual successes and failures against the larger national and international context. So many dots connected, and new interesting avenues to explore. I docked a star because there was a tad too much repetition for my taste. Also, while I got a fairly clear image of certain people, there were nine boys in that boat, and each did not get the same amount of airtime. I understand why the author did that, but some of the key people in this story are rather weakly fleshed out.

Right after completing the book I watched the PBS documentary titled The Boys of '36, which I would also highly recommend as it contains actual footage of the people and events discussed in the book.

I listened to the audiobook, which is superbly narrated by Edward Herrmann, and if you plan on reading this one, I'd highly recommend the audio. Rating: 4 stars.

71. Exit West
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there are 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, 22.5 million refugees, 10 million stateless people, and 189,300 refugees settled in 2016.

Take a second and let those numbers sink in.

How to make sense of these numbers? Yes, one can read about it, watch news stories or documentaries, and this book is one lit match held up in the darkness to help shed some much needed light.

This is the story of two young Muslims, in an un-named country on the brink of civil war. As thing get progressively worse, they discover there are ways they could leave and start anew someplace else.

I admire the author, and so wanted to love this book, but it fell short in some significant ways for me. I really liked the writing; very simple and short sentences can capture entire experiences for example. I really liked that so much is un-named. It's interesting to juxtapose those nameless people and places with things that are named, and I really liked the exploration of the power of names. I really liked the exploration of what is lost and what is gained when you are forced to leave your home, and how well one immerses oneself, or not, in a new culture. I really liked the exploration of what home means, and where it can be found.

And yet. There was something missing in the reading of this for me. There was too much emotional distance for starters. Maybe that was intentional as many readers might not want to be sucked into the horrors of these experiences, and keeping things on a lighter level might make this a more popular read. Maybe what I was experiencing was reading about people with PTSD, as that might also explain the lack of emotion in the telling of this tale. Either way, I found the lack of emotional connection jarring considering the subject matter.

I think the use of magical realism was an interesting choice. It prevents the story from getting bogged down in transport minutiae and helps really compress time and movement, but the use of this device also hides the reality of what is actually involved when one flees.

I listened to the audiobook, which was well narrated by the author, but this felt like the longest book I've listened to, and it was less than 5 hours. It seemed to go on forever for such a slim book. So, I'm mixed about this one. I appreciate that it reaches readers who might otherwise not be exposed to these issues and that is no small thing, but it just didn't work as well for me. Rating: 3 stars.

72. The Butcher's Hook
From the author's note: I was fascinated by the idea that, three hundred years ago, an undereducated young woman with a smart mind and febrile imagination would have very little to go on when it came to making sense of, and dealing with, her world. She'd have hardly any conversation with anyone, there'd be precious little communication with her peer group and the impositions of her rank and gender meant that she'd have to find a way of coping with what happened to her ... and that way turned out to be highly unusual and idiosyncratic.

This debut novel showcases a wonderful new talent, and yet I cannot give it a higher rating. I loved the premise of this story, enjoyed the historical fiction setting, and liked the exploration of a young woman's agency in a world that seeks to confine her. The author has a wonderful way of capturing moments. As an example: I lift my skirts a little as I enter the room as if crossing shallow water. It is the moat of my father's constant disapproval that I try and avoid, for it wets so much and stinks when it dries.

There are nuggets like that throughout this book, and for the first quarter I thought this might actually be a five star read. Then events occur that were unbelievable, and once I could not suspend disbelief the story lost much of its power. Let me illustrate my point without spoilers. When I was an older teen I spent a year in boarding school in India. One day my cousins and I skipped class and went to watch a movie and explore the sights. Now this was not a large city, nor a small one, and when I went home that very evening my grandfather asked me how I had liked the movie. Turns out someone saw me and wasted no time in letting my Appacha know that I was up to no good. Why do I share this story? Because there is no way in hell that young Anne Jacob left her house and roamed around 1763 London without tongues wagging. And that's just the tip of the unbelievable iceberg. Events unfold that don't make sense, let alone for a 14 year old girl, and yet the book blurb states that Anne is 19. So, there's that disconnect. This coming of age story is a dark one, and made me ponder the nature versus nurture debate.

Inspite of its shortcomings, the writing is really good, and there are scenes I won't be forgetting soon. I can't wait to see what this author releases next. Rating: 3 stars.

July 6, 2017

Cinemascope: Experimenter

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: Yale University, 1961. Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) designs a psychology experiment that remains relevant to this day, in which people think they're delivering painful electric shocks to an affable stranger (Jim Gaffigan) strapped into a chair in another room. Disregarding his pleas for mercy, the majority of subjects do not stop the experiment, administering what they think are near-fatal electric shocks, simply because they ve been told to. Milgram's exploration of authority and conformity strikes a nerve in popular culture and the scientific community. Celebrated in some circles, he is also accused of being a deceptive, manipulative monster. His wife Sasha (Winona Ryder) anchors him through it all.

Human behavior is something I find fascinating, and this historical drama recounts some of the interesting experiments and findings in the 1960s that have shaped our understanding of humans to this day.

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

July 3, 2017

Recent Reads

67. American Gods
55% done, and I'm bailing on this one.

About four books later I think it might have to call it. I love Gaiman's Sandman graphic novel series, but cannot seem to get into his prose. I keep trying, because I love how this man's brain works, and the worlds he conjures up are fascinating, but alas, yet another one bites the dust.

This book moved to the top of my list when I saw that Starz was adapting it for TV. I listened to the audiobook, which is superbly narrated by George Guidall, and I'd give him 5 stars for his work here. The reason I even got so far into the book was mostly due to his narration, and partly because I was listening to it on long walks, and kept listening as I made my way back home.

The premise of this story is fantastic. I love the idea of old country gods following the faithful to America, and then finding themselves stranded and abandoned here as the faithful move on to worship new gods in the form of internet, money, TV, etc. I really liked the mythology behind this yarn, but no character is fully developed. Maybe that is intentional as can humans really know their gods? The story felt like a long strange road trip where some interesting characters are encountered, but mostly nothing of interest really happens. That scene where a man is swallowed by a vagina though! That kept me listening for another hour. There are sparkly bits in the story, classic Gaiman magic, but they were too few and far between to keep me interested, and if I had been reading the print book, I'd have bailed way sooner. So onto the DNF pile it goes.

As a side note, I watched the first episode of the Starz production, and find myself feeling the same way I did about this book. Not sure if I care enough to continue with the show either. Will see. Rating: 1 star.

68. Nightlights
This is the story of an artistic girl with a wonderful imagination. Young Sandy draws what she imagines, and the line between fantasy and reality blurs one day when a mysterious girl appears at her school. Does anyone else see her?

The art in this children's graphic novel is vibrant and lovely, and I really liked it, however the story didn't seem cohesive, especially the ending. There is touch of horror in this yarn which is quite appropriate for young readers, and this would make a wonderfully spooky Halloween read with the wee ones in your life. Rating: 3 stars.

69. A Child of Books
I've been making my way through several children's picture books lately. There is something quite lovely about holding a large brightly colored book in these adult hands that makes me happy.

I am a child of books.
I come from a world of stories.

Those two lines are what caught my attention. This is a book about the power of words, stories, and books, and while I really liked the art, especially the use of book texts, the writing itself was lackluster, and does not convey the magic of reading in my opinion. I'd give the art 4 stars and the text 2, and that's how I ended up with my rating. Rating: 3 stars.

June 30, 2017

Journal pages

I need more practice drawing hair, so watched a video by @alphonsodunn

June 29, 2017

Cinemascope: Great Human Odyssey

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

Image result for great human odyssey

Released in 2016.

Plot line: Numbering no more than a few thousand, tiny groups of intrepid humans began to move out of Africa-eventually dominating the planet. How did these early humans acquire the skills, technology, and talent to thrive in every environment on earth? Takes a global journey through the past, following our ancestors' footsteps out of Africa along a trail of scientific clues to help unravel the mystery of how we got where we are.

I've read several fantastic books on this very topic, and really enjoyed this PBS/NOVA production. There is much to ponder about our origins and this show will get you started.

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

June 26, 2017

Recent Reads

64. The Clay Girl
I haven't felt this way about a book in a long time. I loved everything about it and will re-read it, and I say that as someone who isn't a re-reader. I'm not sure I can put all my emotions into any coherent words, so this is the best I can do at this time.

Let me first start by saying that the Goodreads blurb and some reviews of this book give too much away. The slow reveal is part of what makes this such an amazing read.

This is the story of Ari, an eight year old girl who lives in Canada. She is the youngest of six sisters, and her home life is horrible. When we meet her, she is being shipped off to stay with an Aunt because of a devastating family event, and it is not the first time she has been farmed out. The story is told from Ari's POV (1st person), and we follow her from age 8 to about about 16.

The voice in this book is fantastic. Ari's life is dark, very dark, so she spends much time in her imagination, and we get to see the world through her eyes as she learns more about herself and the people around her. I loved the writing, especially the first third of the book, which was magically poetic. The writing in the later sections while still luminous sounds different, and that makes sense as Ari gets older. There are many characters in this story and they all felt real and well fleshed out. There are people I wanted to hug close, and others I wanted to hit with a saucepan. Horrible things happen both off page and on, and yet the author infused so much light and joy into this dark tale that I never felt suffocated. The juxtaposition of the hurt and love that family inflict and the kindness of teachers had me reaching for my box of Kleenex oh so many times. I loved and really cared about the people in this story, and I kept putting the book down so as to not get to the end too fast. I smiled and cried, my heart was broken and then mended. This one will stay with me for a long time.

That this is a debut novel is astonishing, and I've found a new author and publishing house to keep my eye on. Highly recommended. Rating: 5 stars.

65. The Best We Could Do
3.5 stars.

At what point in our lives do we realize that our parents are people in their own rights that have nothing to do with us? In this graphic memoir, the author fully appreciates this when she gives birth to her son.

This is the story of her parents lives in Vietnam before they met each other, their early years together, and the family's escape from Vietnam in the 1970s, finally ending up in America. While it's technically true that refugees are immigrants, the specifics can be sobering. I really appreciated how the author explored themes of family, home, and the cultural challenges of being a stranger in a strange land. I also liked the perspective that different generations of her family had about Vietnam. This is a memoir though, and I do think that the author shied away from certain topics which resulted in some disjointed sections, and left rather large gaps in the story. Maybe this was done out of respect for her parent's feelings, but there are huge elephant sized issues that either get glossed over or aren't addressed at all. I really liked the art and despite my complaints I'm delighted to see more diversity in this genre. A timely read for our times indeed. Rating: rounded up to 4 stars.

66. I'm Not Scared
“Stop all this talk about monsters, Michele. Monsters don’t exist. It’s men you should be afraid of, not monsters.”

This coming of age story is translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt.

A bunch of kids are out riding their bikes in a tiny village in Southern Italy. On a dare one of them enters an abandoned farmhouse and stumbles upon something horrible.

The protagonist of this story is a nine year old boy, and themes explored include the loss of childhood innocence, and the confusion of trying to make sense of the adult world. I really liked the setting, and the sense of place in this story. Much of the confusion for the reader makes a certain amount of sense as we only know what the nine year old knows - though there are some things we, the adult reader, understand that he does not. While I liked it, it didn't get a higher rating because I wasn't really sucked into the story and things seemed to happen at an emotional distance, though maybe that's because the character is only nine. The buildup is slow which made the rushed ending seem out of place. I for one did like that final scene, a tad predictable yes, but it was good nonetheless. Rating: 3 stars.

June 22, 2017

Cinemascope: The Purity Myth

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 purity myth documentary poster

Released in 2011.

Plot line: In this video adaptation of her bestselling book, pioneering feminist blogger Jessica Valenti trains her sights on "the virginity movement" -- an unholy alliance of evangelical Christians, right-wing politicians, and conservative policy intellectuals who have been exploiting irrational fears about women's sexuality to roll back women's rights. From dad-and-daughter "purity balls," taxpayer-funded abstinence-only curricula, and political attacks on Planned Parenthood, to recent attempts by legislators to de-fund women's reproductive health care and narrow the legal definition of rape, Valenti identifies a single, unifying assumption: the myth that the worth of a woman depends on what she does -- or does not do -- sexually. In the end, Valenti argues that the health and well-being of women are too important to be left to ideologues bent on vilifying feminism and undermining women's autonomy.

This documentary is based on a book I've got on my to-be-read list, but I somehow missed this when it was released. It's a short and disturbing documentary that highlights the value patriarchal systems place on women's virginity. This has been an issue for hundreds if not thousands of years, and the fact that many still believe stuff like this is 2017 is mind boggling. Where is the outcry about boys and their purity? Typical double standard that makes my head hurt. There is so much more to a woman than her virginity status people, but if you read my blog you don't need me to remind you of that.

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

June 19, 2017

Recent Reads

61. Sex Criminals, Vol. 3: Three the Hard Way
This graphic novel series should be great, but it's hit or miss for me. I continue to enjoy the art, the character development, the premise, the diversity, and the sex positivity of this series, but the story didn't move forward at all in this volume. Very meta, and while that is cool, I need more. The weakest installment so far. Rating: 2 stars.

62. The Blue Hour
3.5 stars

This children's picture book is hard for me to rate. The art is visually stunning, and I could look at these pages for a very long time. Simply beautiful. The text however is dull and boring. Given that this is about the the magical twilight hour, I expected more from the text. Now, I loved reading Goodnight Moon to my nephews when they were little, and they loved it too, and in no way would I say that the text was amazing, so maybe the reason I found the text so lack luster with this one is that I was missing a wee one in my lap to read aloud to. I'd give the art 5 stars, the text 2, and will round up because this one is worth picking up for the art alone. Rating: 4 stars.

63. The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Book blurb: In a triumph of multidisciplinary thinking, Johnson illuminates the intertwined histories and interconnectedness of the spread of disease, contagion theory, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry, offering both a riveting history and a powerful explanation of how it has shaped the world we live in.

At 20.0% An interesting side effect of reading about cholera is that I'm constantly thirsty.
At 40.0%: Unlike Jon Snow from GOT, this John Snow knows something!

I listened to the audiobook which is wonderfully narrated by Alan Sklar.

Oh the things we take for granted in this part of the world: clean water (well, maybe not in Flint), sewage pipes, epidemiology and the understanding of disease pathways. It's easy to forget that much of the world is not as lucky, and that not that long ago cholera outbreaks wiped out a significant percentage of the populations affected.

I love narrative non-fiction books that combine science, medicine, history and still read like a thriller. Over the past several years I've become fascinated by contagious diseases, their origins, how they spread, how we reduce (or not) the mortality rates and this book is another piece of the mosaic. I was fascinated, educated, horrified, and filled with admiration for the two men, one of science and one of the cloth, who solved the puzzle of the cholera outbreak in London in 1854. Each and every one of us living in an urban area today owe a debt of gratitude to these two men.

There are so many topics covered in this one book, and I really enjoyed reading about and pondering the implications of the sheer number of humans on the planet and what might be in store for us. The only reason I docked a star was because there was quite a bit of repetition and the epilogue contains the author's opinions on bio-terrorism and nuclear policies, both of which while important seemed completely out of context in this book. Better editing would have resolved these issues. Rating: 4 stars.

June 15, 2017

Cinemascope: Big Little Lies

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

Image result for big little lies hbo

Released in 2017.

Plot line: Based on the same-titled best-seller by Liane Moriarty, "Big Little Lies" weaves a darkly comedic tale of murder and mischief in the tranquil beachfront town of Monterey, Calif. Amidst doting moms, successful husbands, beautiful children, and stunning homes exists a community fueled by rumors and divided into haves and have-nots, exposing fractured relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends and neighbors. Told through the eyes of three mothers -- Madeline, Celeste and Jane -- the series' narrative explores society's myths regarding perfection and its romanticization of marriage, sex, parenting and friendship. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley star as the three prominent "mothers of Monterey."

A shout out to HBO for this one. I just know that the book would not work for me, I mean look at that premise. Poor rich white women? Not my cup of tea in prose, but this show you guys is fantastic. Yes there are obscene amounts of wealth on display, but I loved that this is really a story about women: women judging each other, being there for one another, using their children as weapons, and the reality of violence against women. It's an honest look at the good, the bad and the ugly, and I love that roles like these are being created for older women in the industry.

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

June 14, 2017

Journal pages

I continue to fill up my cheap sketchbook. Today's inspiration is the art of Julia Sarda.

June 12, 2017

Recent Reads

58. Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
I'll start this review by saying that as a kid growing up in Kenya, I was very pro-Palestinian. As an adult I consulted with a tech company in Tel Aviv over the course of eighteen months or so, and visited Israel a total of five times. It took me actually being on the ground to realize the complexity of the situation, and the atrocities committed by all sides made uncomplicated opinions a relic from my childhood.

The author is an artist and stay-at-home-dad, and ends up in various parts of the world based on where his wife (a Médecins Sans Frontières administrator) is stationed. In this graphic memoir, he sketches his lived experience in and around Jerusalem. He does reportage, and in doing so keeps most of the larger political and emotional issues at bay by simply focusing on what he actually sees, experiences, and learns during his stay in the country. I really appreciated the stranger in a strange land perspective. The juxtaposition of the mundane with the religious and violence is a surreal experience, and I especially loved the sections with the wall. I too was fascinated by it, and I'm not talking about the Wailing Wall here, though that too is fascinating. I continue to like the art, and in my opinion this is his best work yet. Rating: 4 stars.

59. The Dark Flood Rises
Bailed at page 85.

This is the first book I've read by the author, and I'm disappointed that I didn't like it enough to finish it. It started out well enough, and I quite enjoyed being in the head of Francesca Stubbs, who might be old but is certainly not out. There are other characters I also found amusing, but after I put the book down a couple of times I was reluctant to pick it up again. The writing is good and there are really wonderful flashes of insight about aging, death, family, love, and relationships, but those flashes were not enough to pull me through the story. I think if I'd made it to the end of the book I'd have given it 2 stars, but I'm not in the mood to do so, so onto the DNF pile it goes. Rating: 1 star.

60. Saga, Vol. 7
I honestly don't know what to say about this series that hasn't been already said. It's wonderful, the characters are well fleshed out, the art continues to be great, and I want me a L.C. This is an almost self contained installment, and I really enjoyed the exploration of love, family, loyalty, war, and refugees. I'd said it before and I'll say it again - if you aren't reading Saga, what on earth are you waiting for? I'll be waiting impatiently for the next volume, which cannot come soon enough. Rating: 4 stars.

June 10, 2017

Journal pages

Yes I could simply have used a journal with mixed media paper, but then what would I do with this cheap Artist's Loft sketchbook? 4 pages down 106 to go...

June 8, 2017

Cinemascope: Dear White People (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 dear white people netflix

Released in 2017.

Plot line: Based on the acclaimed film of the same name, this Netflix-original series follows a group of students of color at Winchester University, a predominantly white Ivy League college. The students are faced with a landscape of cultural bias, social injustice, misguided activism and slippery politics. Through an absurdist lens, the series uses irony, self-deprecation, brutal honesty and humor to highlight issues that still plague today's"post-racial" society.

Am really loving some of the Netflix shows this year. I was skeptical about this one. Racism is not an easy subject to talk about without offending someone, and while I'm sure there are people offended by this show I was not in that number. Thought provoking, salient, timely, and I was so reminded of certain moments in my own college years. I liked this series better than the movie.

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

June 5, 2017

Recent Reads

55. A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)
I recently asked my nieces and nephews to recommend books they thought I must read. This was the one my thirteen and a half year old niece, Sophia, selected. She loves the first two books in the series, and when she sent me a text that the third in the series was released earlier this month, she had am emoji with hearts for eyes, which made me smile.

I was not smiling while reading this book however. It's a mashup between Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, with Game of Thrones undertones and faeries. On the plus side, this is a really fast read and the main female protagonist does not become putty when strong male arms surround her. The world building is fun, and I enjoyed the varied cast of characters, though I found the main guy (aka Beast) rather annoying. I was surprised by some of the gruesome and bloody scenes in this one, and also the sex scenes are very steamy (recall that my nieces are 13 and 14). I did find all the male growling during sex to be off-putting, but that might just be me. I also find it interesting that beautiful girls fall in love with "beasts" yet somehow that trope does not seem to work the other way around. Imagine a story where a handsome boy falls in love with a "beast" girl. Yup, that's what I thought.

I can see why my nieces love this series, Feyre (the young woman) has a strong will and agency, there's lots of action, both out of and under the sheets, and the plot pulls you along to an ending that was interesting, though not unexpected for this older reader. I won't be continuing with this series, but am enjoying the discussion with my nieces, and that's really my primary goal anyway. Rating: 2 stars.

56. Why We March: Signs of Protest and Hope
This is photo album that showcases 300 creative signs from around the world carried during the Women's March of January 2017. I liked it for what it was, and it was interesting to see some of the more interesting signage people created, plus all those pink pussy hats are a delight. However, I would have liked to read about the history of the march and what the organizers hoped to achieve with some contextual essays interwoven among the pictures. It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case I think the addition of words would have made this a more powerful book. Rating: 3 stars.

57. Natchez Burning (Penn Cage #4)
This is the fourth book in the Penn Cage series, and the "first installment in an epic trilogy that interweaves crimes, lies, and secrets past and present in a mesmerizing thriller featuring Southern lawyer and former prosecutor Penn Cage."

This is the only book in the series I've read, and while there are hints of stuff that happened in the previous books it was not an issue in my reading of this one. This is a chunkser at almost 800 pages, and I listened to the audiobook (about 36 hours) which was well narrated by David Ledoux.

The story is set in Natchez, Mississippi, and unfolds with a first person narrative by Penn Cage, and with third person point of views from multiple characters, who are all connected to Penn in some way. There are various threads that all get woven together. There are bloody and brutal crimes that happen during the 1960s that were not unusual for that time and place. These events though have unexpected reverberations into the current time, when Penn's upstanding and much beloved father is accused of murder. The Double Eagles (a vicious KKK group) is at the heart of crimes in both the past and present. Throw in assassination conspiracy theories, racially motivated atrocities, greed and corruption at the highest levels, and you've got yourself a heck of a ride.

I really liked the setting of this story and links between Jim Crow and present day Natchez. While some things have changed, much is as it has always been. I found the male characters well fleshed out, but was disappointed with the how the women in this story were written, as there was not much depth to them at all. I really liked the plot device of tying a present day crime to ones almost 40 years old, and the exploration of race, violence, and the lived experiences of the people of this town.

I did not like the amount of repetition in this novel. Penn experiences something, then we have to rehash it as the other characters chime in with their third person perspective of the same thing as he tells them about it. This happened all the time, and while one could skim those sections while reading in print/ebook format, an audiobook does not work as well for skimming, and it got really annoying. Another thing that didn't work for me were the actions taken by the key players in this story, many of which simply made no sense at all. Seriously, no sane person comes up with plans like these, and I'm talking about the "good guys" here. Also, how is it that basic genetics seem to be beyond these highly educated people? Sigh.

Now, I know that this was re-marketed as the beginning of a trilogy, but this story could very easily have been satisfactorily wrapped up in one book. Instead, things get dragged out unnecessarily and the ending reads like the author suddenly ran out of ink in his pen. I played back the last several minutes a couple of times to make sure I hadn't missed something. What the heck?!

Overall I really liked the sense of place and the themes explored, but I simply could not get past the things that annoyed me to give this a higher rating. The author writes well, and this would have been a better read with tighter editing. Will I read the next book? Maybe. But I'll not be doing the audiobook, as I expect I'll need to skim some. Rating: 3 stars.

June 1, 2017

Cinemascope: Hasan Minhaj - Homecoming King

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



Released in 2017.

Plot line: In his first stand-up special, Hasan Minhaj weaves humorous and heartbreaking anecdotes to tell his life story as an Indian-American Muslim. Topics include racism, bullying and meeting the demanding expectations of his immigrant parents.

Netflix is doing some really fun programming these days. I was in the mood for something light to watch, and while I smiled, there are serious topics covered here. Exactly what I was looking for. "Once you go brown, you gotta lock it down," indeed.

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

May 29, 2017

Recent Reads

52. Giant Days, Vol. 3
In the third installment of this graphic novel series the first year at university draws to a close. Unlike the previous two volumes, this one didn't work as well for me. Maybe because it felt more like four short stories than a cohesive narrative, but my overall feeling about this one was meh, so while the art continues to be cute, colorful and manga-ish, I'm not sure I'll be continuing on. Though there is that ending.... Rating: 2 stars.

53. The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts
This is a delightful little book with whimsical black and white illustrations and a handful of facts about a bunch of animals. I loved the illustrations, and also learned some things along the way.

Did you know that a group of cockroaches is called an intrusion? Or that the Chinese leather turtle pees through its mouth? Me neither.

Highly recommended for kids of all ages, especially animal lovers, and as an added bonus, this would also double as a fun coloring book. Simply delightful. Rating: 4 stars.

54. Little White Duck : A Childhood in China
2.5 stars.

This graphic memoir is a collection of eight short stories based on the author's childhood in 1970s China. This book is targeted for middle school readers, and it's a good introduction to some Chinese culture and history. The stories center around Na Liu and her younger sister, and as if often the case in all cultures, much of what is going on in the adult world makes little sense to the young. I especially liked the way class is explored in the title story, however the book lacked enough cohesiveness and depth for this adult reader. I liked the art enough to round up. Rating: 3 stars.

May 25, 2017

Cinemascope: Manchester by the Sea

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

Image result for manchester by the sea

Released in 2016.

Plot line: After the death of his older brother Joe, Lee Chandler is shocked that Joe has made him sole guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick. Taking leave of his job as a janitor in Boston, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the fishing village where his working-class family has lived for generations. There, he is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife, Randi, and the community where he was born and raised.

I tend not to love buzzy movies, but this one is worth the hype. It's a quiet family drama, and it's really well done. I'm not a fan of Casey Affleck, so no-one is more surprised than me that I really liked this one. I did not however think that any of the acting in this movie was worth an Oscar nomination, so is it possible to have a great movie without stellar performances? I think this movie says it's possible. Really enjoyed it, and especially loved the ending. Sometimes broken people cannot be fixed.

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

May 22, 2017

Recent Reads

49. Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders #1)
This is the first book in the Liveship Traders Trilogy, which is in turn the second trilogy in the Realm of the Elderings series. I'd been so looking forward to reading this one, and am rather disappointed that I didn't love it more.

I tried the audiobook, but the breathless narrator didn't work for me at all, and I couldn't imagine 35 or so hours of that, so pulled up my ebook and settled in for a nice long read. This is an adult fantasy series, so I was not surprised at its length, but I was surprised by how long it took me to complete. How can that be, when the majority of the story takes place aboard ships?

Unlike the Farseer Trilogy, this book is told in the third person from multiple points of view, which is not my fave way of telling a story. There are various groups of people in this yarn: There are the Bingtown traders who have these cool ships called liveships, so called because they come to life after a member of three consecutive generations of a family has died on their decks. There are pirates. Then there are these mysterious folk from the Rain Wilds.

Let's start with the plus side: Themes of family, love, loyalty, religion, slavery, feminism, etc. are explored in an interesting manner. I really liked the ship sections, really liked Althea Vestrit, for what woman has not felt betrayed at some point simply because of her gender? And I really liked that all the women in this story were complex, multidimensional characters. I also liked the pirate. He's got a dream. What's not to like about that? Rather than list characters, I'll sum up by saying that the character development (human and otherwise) in this book is really good. You feel like you know these people as the story unfolds. That's the primary strength of this book in my opinion.

Where it falls flat is that entire sections of the book have nothing happening. I need more action in my fantasy reads, and while this one certainly had brilliant bursts, the pacing didn't work for me. Another issue I had was with the world building. Some cool stuff, but too much is put off, hinted at, deferred for later, and at almost 750 pages, I did expect more of a reveal. This door stop of a book could also have used some tighter editing, especially seeing as the next two in this trilogy are chunksters as well, and if you aren't a sailor or into ship stories, much of this book probably won't resonate with you.

Reading this got me excited for sailing season to start, sans sea serpents naturally, and I liked it well enough that I'll read the next book to see how the story unfolds. Rating: 3 stars.

50. Giant Days, Vol. 2
I needed something fun and light, and that is exactly what I got with this second installment of this teen graphic novel series. In this volume, the characters are still in their first semester at university, and academics has to take a backseat when one is dealing with crushes, unrequited or otherwise, finding clothing for a ball, and dealing with old rivals. One can only hope that they pass their exams. A quick fun romp of a read. Rating: 3 stars.

51. Milk and Honey
Book blurb: milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity.

I had an English teacher who leeched all the joy and love out of poems, and I've never quite recovered. I dip my toes in every now and then, but honestly I'm not sure whether it's the poems or me, so I opened this little book with some trepidation.

I inhaled the collection, and then turned back to the first page and read it a bit slower as I recorded some of the poems in my journal. I didn't love them all, but the searing honesty of these little pieces took my breath away. These are really short pieces for the most part, and the little sketches are a lovely touch. I also really liked that while it dives deeply into dark places, there is also light and love added to the mix.

I have no idea how to rate poetry so this is my best attempt at a rating. Give it a try and see if you feel the same way. Rating: 4 stars.

May 17, 2017

Cinemascope: A Single Man

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 2009.

Plot line: A Single Man is based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood. Set in Los Angeles in 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, it is the story of a British college professor (Colin Firth) who is struggling to find meaning to his life after the death of his long time partner. The story is a romantic tale of love interrupted, the isolation that is an inherent part of the human condition, and, ultimately, the importance of the seemingly smaller moments in life.

I read and loved the book last year, so was looking forward to watching the movie. It's beautifully done, and Colin Firth is superb in this role. A wonderful exploration of the human condition.

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

May 15, 2017

Recent Reads

46. Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
“The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.”

This essay/manifesto is a quick, yet thought provoking read. The premise of this slim volume is that a friend asked Adichie advice on how to raise a feminist daughter, and this letter was her response.

As a feminist and an Adichie fangirl I knew I'd like this one. It would be an excellent primer for parents of all genders, and a good refresher for everyone else, however, there wasn't much new in here for me. Adichie does what she does best, which is put into simple, easy to understand language concepts that many shy away from, and for that alone this is worth a read. Rating: 3 stars.

47. Today Will Be Different
After reading several books that addressed tough subject matter I was in the mood for something lighter, and this seemed like just the ticket. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me. I liked the premise of the story, and the start was promising, but after 66 pages I find myself bored with all that upper-middle-class-white American angst. I do appreciate that the narrator makes fun of just that, but there just isn't enough depth in this story to keep my interest. So onto the DNF pile it goes. Rating: 1 star.

48. The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1)
Sailing season is almost upon us, so continued my seasonal tradition of picking up a King book. I listened to the audiobook which is superbly narrated by George Guidall.

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

This is the first book in The Dark Tower series, considered to be King's magnum opus, and that first line is essentially the plot of the entire book. Unlike most other King books I didn't love this one immediately, and there are entire sequences that felt dream like - hazy and out of focus. It read like a mash up of an old school Western, fantasy, and a contemporary Dystopian story, and I'm just not sure how I feel about it. There are sections I loved, and others that had me scratching my head. The writing and dialogue is also inconsistent through this one, but as it's one of his shorter books, I got through it pretty quickly.

I have the next couple of books on audio, but am unsure if I should continue. For those who did, should I bother? Rating: 3 stars.

May 12, 2017

Dear Book Club: It’s You, Not Me

If you are currently in a book club, or have ever been, I'd highly recommend reading this article in the New York Times. I'd actually suggest having the book club members read it and then discuss, but first check all sharp objects at the door.

May 9, 2017

Journal pages

I love the illustrations in books for kids. I didn't grow up reading the Raggedy Andy books, but the art is delightful.

May 8, 2017

Recent Reads

43. I Killed Adolf Hitler
What if we lived in a world where it was legal to hire assassins to kill people who annoy us? Dysfunctional family members, annoying co-workers, that person who cut you off on the highway, a loud neighbor, oh, that neighbor who does not use a pooper scooper after their dog .... the list would be endless, and it is rather fun to contemplate. Suddenly minor annoyances can be looked at in a different light, and part of what this fun graphic novel does is explore the pettiness of humans. But wait, someone invents a time machine, and an assassin is hired to go back in time and kill Hitler. Things do not go as planned, and following along as the plot unfolds is a fun thought experiment. The art is classic Jason, colorful and anthropomorphic. A quick, fun read. Rating: 3 stars.

44. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America
Book blurb: A masterly work of literary journalism about a senseless murder, a relentless detective, and the great plague of homicide in America.

I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Rebecca Lowman.

Journalism is dead. We've all heard that lament over the past several decades, and it is certainly true when it come to mainstream media, particularly TV, but Jill Leovy is here to remind us that there are still journalists doing the heavy lifting, if only we would look away from the Kardashians for a hot minute, and give them the attention they deserve.

One day a young black man is shot and killed on the streets of South Los Angeles. It'd be one thing if this was an isolated incident, one rare enough to make the news, but it isn't that. This kid (and make no mistake he's a kid) is just one of hundreds of young black men killed in LA every year, and I assure you if that was happening in your neighborhood there'd be a media frenzy. So why isn't there more coverage of these murders? Why are the majority of killers never arrested? Does it really not matter when it's young black men dying? Does anyone care? This narrative non-fiction work takes on these questions head on.

This is the true story of one crime among many, a portrait of the victims, their families, the communities, and the detectives who are all linked together in this tragedy. I learned a lot, and was both angered and heart sick by what I learned. Can you even imagine living a life where you don't know if the young men in your family will live to the ripe old age of 21? We are not talking about a war zone in a different country, but when medics are sent to South LA hospitals for training before being shipped out to war zones there is something really wrong here at home. The litany of the dead men over such a short period is hard to read about, and there were entire sections I was in tears.

I did not enjoy a single moment of this book, but it might well the most important book I read all year. Add this one to the list of required reading for all Americans. Highly recommended. Rating: 5 stars.

45. Difficult Women
I am trying to read more short stories and I love this author, so picked this one up knowing that it was going to be a tough read. I had no idea just how tough it was going to be though.

These stories should put to bed all that "likable women" chatter. There is not a likable woman in these stories, and who really cares? Not me. Every single story was a gut punch, and I had to pace out my reading of this collection as the stories do a deep dive into really dark places. I needed trees, sunlight and lots of hugs while reading this book. I can't say that this was an enjoyable reading experience, but it was a compelling read, and I went through the entire range of emotions during the process.

One of my complaints about short stories is that just when I settle in, they end and leave me wanting more. This collection was the first time I experienced a sense of completeness when a story ended. The writing is really good, and the unflinching look at these women and their experiences takes one's breath away. As with any collection, there are some stories I did not love as much as others, but this is collection worth reading.

P.S. I have yet to read An Untamed State, and based on this collection, my reluctance to pick it up is well founded. Rating: 4 stars.

May 6, 2017

Journal pages

Been ages since I played in my journal. No time like the present to begin again.

May 4, 2017

Cinemascope: 13 Reasons Why

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

Image result for 13 reasons why

Released in 2017.

Plot line: Newcomer Katherine Langford plays the role of Hannah, a young woman who takes her own life. Two weeks after her tragic death, a classmate named Clay finds a mysterious box on his porch. Inside the box are recordings made by Hannah -- on whom Clay had a crush -- in which she explains the 13 reasons why she chose to commit suicide. If Clay decides to listen to the recordings, he will find out if and how he made the list. This intricate and heart-wrenching tale is told through Clay and Hannah's dual narratives.

There's been much hoopla and warnings about this new Netflix show, but I for one am encouraged by the production of shows that address real issues that spark discussions. This show is based on a book of the same name, which I have yet to read, and both the book and show are targeted at a young adult audience. No matter where you fall on all the controversy surrounding this one, watch it before you make up your mind about it. So many adults I've met are talking negatively about it without having seen it. Also for anyone who thinks that they can prevent their kids from watching it, don't be so naive. Watch it with or without your kids, and then talk to them about the themes explored here. Don't preach, talk.

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

May 1, 2017

Recent Reads

40. Nameless
I felt like I read this sci-fi/horror graphic novel without first taking prerequisite classes in mythology, ancient religions, the occult, symbology, etc. so much of it simply went over my head.

There's an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and a team has been assembled to do something about it. There are some interesting plot points, but the how the story spins out in all its gory, and I mean that literally, details left me scratching my head. The art is really great, but this is not one for the uninitiated reader. Rating: 1 star.

41. Weasels
Sometimes the simplest things get in the way of plans for world domination. This fun picture book has cute and lovely art, and getting insight into the minds of weasels is an added bonus. What did you think they did all day? Rating: 3 stars.

42. The Sheriff of Babylon, Volume 1: Bang. Bang. Bang.
Book blurb: Baghdad, 2003. The War on Terror has been raging for two years. Iraq's capital city has been devastated, and without a police force to keep its citizens safe. In an effort to establish some semblance of order in the war-torn city, Florida cop-turned-military consultant Chris Henry has been assigned to train a new group of cadets who will take up the cause of law enforcement. But even those with good intentions are not immune to the chaos found in the post-9/11 Middle East.

Yes, war is hell, but the aftermath is hell too.

This graphic novel series follows several people in the aftermath of the Iraqi war, and it is as dark and awful as one would expect. There is murder mystery at the heart of this story, but what is so fascinating is that everyone has an agenda and you're never really sure who is trustworthy and who isn't. I liked the art, but I was really drawn in by the characters and the plot of this story. It is really violent, so if that is not your jam, then you might want to skip it. However, I do think it's too easy for us Americans to ignore the aftermath of the various wars we've been engaged in, and this comic takes on some of the issues without flinching.

I recommend this one to readers of historical fiction and war stories. Isn't it time that the wars of the past decade or so got more coverage in the bibliophile world? I'll be keeping my eye out for the next installment in the series. Rating: 4 stars.

April 27, 2017

Cinemascope: The Bridge | Bron | Broen (Season 1)

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




Released in 2011.

Plot line: When a body is found on the bridge between Denmark and Sweden, right on the border, Danish inspector Martin Rohde and Swedish Saga Norén have to share jurisdiction and work together to find the killer.

Don't mistake this series for the one set on the US/Mexico border. This is the Scandinavian original, so yes there are subtitles, but this is a really great police procedural with the added bonus of not being set in the US. Solving the crime is interesting, but what I really liked about this series is the character study of the main cops. Fascinating.

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

April 24, 2017

Recent Reads

37. The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight, and Gain Health
From page 17: ...nine factors related to nutrition and lifestyle accounted for almost 95% of the risk of a heart attack in men and women in almost every geographic region and in every racial and ethnic group worldwide. These factors were: smoking, cholesterol level, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and psychosocial issues such as emotional stress and depression. In other words, the disease that kills the most people each year worldwide and accounts for the single largest expenditure of healthcare dollars is almost completely preventable just by changing diet and lifestyle in ways described in this book.

If that doesn't make you pick up this book, I don't know what will.

This first third of this book dives deeply into the fields of nutrition, stress management, guided meditations, and exercise. The information conveyed in these sections is clear and easy to understand with scientific studies as backup. These are the sections that I found most useful and in some cases mind blowing.

The second third deals with specific issues: lowering cholesterol, losing weight, lowering blood pressure, preventing and reversing type 2 diabetes, preventing and reversing cardiovascular disease, and preventing and treating prostate and breast cancer. There is really great information here, but there is a ton of repetition, as the solutions have already been outlined in the sections before this one.

The final third covers recipes, cooking and shopping tips. Honestly, this is the part I found least useful, but it would be pertinent information for anyone new to the ideas in this book.

In some ways, Ornish is preaching to the choir with me, but I reinforced ideas I already had formed, learned some new things, and have no doubt that I will re-read sections of this book for the rest of my life. Rating: 4 stars.

38. The Essex Serpent
I love the cover of this book, readers I tend to share similar reading tastes with have raved about this one, and it was long listed for the 2017 Bailey's, so I was really excited to get my hands on a copy. Unfortunately, it did not work for me, and the only reason I did not DNF it was because the writing is lyrical and poetic in sections.

In her GoodReads bio the author states that her "early immersion in old literature and the King James Bible profoundly influenced her writing style." I concur. There are sections that read like paragraphs that Dickens or George Eliot might have penned, and there are certainly biblical overtones, both of which I love, and yet I did not like this book.

The story centers around Cora Seaborne, Will Ransome, and the people in their orbits. She is a wealthy London widow, and their paths cross when Cora moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, where Will is the local vicar. The rumors that the mythical Essex Serpent has returned and is claiming human lives is the thing that this tale spins around. The push and pull of science and religion. Again, sounds intriguing right?

However, the story is told in the third person, and at no point did I know, hence care, about any of these characters. The parts I liked best were the letters that went back and forth between the various characters in the story. I also liked the unusual relationships (don't want to spoil anything so will leave it at that), and I especially appreciated how things ended without going the expected Hollywood route. Still, as mentioned above, it was the writing that kept me reading, and while this story didn't work for me, I will try another book by this author, as there are moments of luminous writing in this one. Rating: 2 stars.

39. Solanin
As I read this manga comic I realized something important about my reading tastes, namely, that while I love coming of age stories, I'm not as enamored by the "new adult" genre/stories. This book is the latter, hence the fact it doesn't get a higher rating is really because of that.

A term I see bandied about by Millennials is "Adutling." I often hear someone say "Adulting is hard." If you agree, this book is for you. Meiko is 24, a recent college grad, and working in a job that she hates. Her boyfriend, Naruo, isn't doing much better, and seems to have moved in with her, as with this part-time job he can't swing rent. The book follows both these characters as they struggle with the dreams they once had juxtaposed against the lives they are living. The black and white art is lovely, there are wonderfully poignant moments, and I liked it well enough. Rating: 3 stars.

April 20, 2017

Cinemascope: The Dressmaker

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 dressmaker movie poster

Released in 2015.

Plot line: A glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.

I'm a Kate Winslet fangirl so maybe it's not a surprise that this is on my recommended list. I loved the setting and how the story unfolds and we learn things as the main character does. A very feminist story that I'd recommend for fans of historical fiction, fashion, and movies featuring a strong woman character.

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