January 18, 2018

Cinemascope: The Crown (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 crown season 2 poster

Released in 2017.

Plot line: Based on an award-winning play ("The Audience") by showrunner Peter Morgan, this lavish, Netflix-original drama chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) from the 1940s to modern times. The series begins with an inside look at the early reign of the queen, who ascended the throne at age 25 after the death of her father, King George VI. As the decades pass, personal intrigues, romances, and political rivalries are revealed that played a big role in events that shaped the later years of the 20th century.

This award winning show is fantastic, and while Season One was entertaining and fun, this one has much darker tones. It's still great, but I could not binge the series as each episode evokes strong feelings. Loved it. Am sad to see Claire Foy leave, but also really like the notion of having older actors play these roles, rather than simply aging the current cast in uncomfortable and strange ways. Cannot wait for the next season.

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

January 17, 2018

One Little Word 2018 | Savor

If you read my blog, you know that rather than make resolutions, I pick a word each year. I've discovered that having a word as a focus, shapes my year dramatically. I am affected physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in unexpected ways.

Past years:
2008: Health and Wealth
2009: Passion
2010: Connect
2011: Explore
2012: Light
2013: Begin
2014: Cultivate
2016: Stretch

My word for 2017 was TRY, and each month I paired my word with an objective and tracked how well I did, or did not do. It turned out to be a great word for me last year, and I learned much about myself, my self-imposed restrictions, and made major changes that I plan to maintain this year.

My word for 2018 is SAVOR. Here are some facets that excite me:
Appreciate | Relish | Taste | Experience | Sample |  Luxuriate In | Treasure | Enjoy | Cherish.

I wanted to take a moment to thank those of you who read along, share your journey, and inspire me. May 2018 be the best year yet.

January 15, 2018

Recent Reads

149. Artemis
Not worth my time. Bailed on page 188.

I really enjoyed The Martian, so you might assume that my expectations were too high going into this one. They were not. I was not expecting to love it, but did expect a fun, entertaining ride. Unfortunately it's neither.

The story here is set on a Moon colony called Artemis. We follow the life and times of Jazz Bashara, who is not above breaking that law for cash. One thing leads to another, and soon Jazz is way over her head and her life is at stake. Will she survive? I simply don't care.

I've got so many issues with this one and I'll just jot them down as they occur to me.

1. The writing is mediocre. Honestly, I don't expect lyrical writing, but this is plain awful.
2. The characters are all cardboard cutouts who move across the page. Not one has any depth, or character development. They are simply tools to move the plot from here to there.
3. The plot is ridiculous and boring.
4. Unlike The Martian, there is barely any science or really anything of interest in this story. Also, smelting and welding are not new technologies, so we don't need detailed descriptions of either.
5. Weir cannot write women. At all.
6. Saudis, Vietnamese, and Colombians, oh my! While I think Weir was ticking off as many diversity boxes as he could, he should really stick with what he knows. Every single ethnic group were cliches and clumps of undifferentiated masses that added no texture or value to this story.
7. Like The Martian, this story is told from the first person point of view. The problem is Weir seemed to forget that unlike The Martian, Jazz is not talking to a camera. We are in her head, so when she suddenly looks at/talks to us, the reader, it makes no sense whatsoever.
8. Also, who the hell needs to have Muslim clothing explained in this day and age? Sometimes it's explained in parenthesis after the word, and other times, there's a wiki like explanation. Seriously Weir?
9. It seemed to me that Weir was writing a screenplay, so maybe he should have jettisoned all the additional weight and simply published his screenplay, which might have been a more interesting read.

The only things, and I mean ONLY things I liked about this book were the cover art and the Kenyan connection. The rest is absolute rubbish. Rating: 1 star.

150. Journal Sparks: Fire Up Your Creativity with Spontaneous Art, Wild Writing, and Inventive Thinking
There are indeed lots of ideas to help you fill out those blank pages, but there's nothing new here for me. It is very colorful and bright, and while it's not labeled as a young adult book, I think kids as young as 10 might find this a fun and useful book. If you are a person who has never kept a journal, would like to, and have no idea where to start, this might be the book for you. Rating: 2 stars.

151. Hercule Poirot's Christmas: A Holiday Mystery (Hercule Poirot #20)
"You have said that Christmas is a season of good cheer. That means, does it not, a lot of eating and drinking? It means, in fact, the overeating! And with the overeating, there comes indigestion And with the indigestion there comes the irritability!" - M. Poirot.

"How dreadful that the holidays should begin with a wailing scream and a deathly gurgle!" - The New York Times.

This is the story of a family that gets together for the Christmas holiday, so I thought it would be perfect for some seasonal reading while having a snow event in these parts. It's a cozy murder with lots of blood, a locked house scenario, lots of characters with questionable motives who lie about everything, and twists and turns that I did not see coming. It was a good thing indeed that M. Poirot was in the neighborhood to help sort it all out.

For those of you visiting with family this holiday season, I'll pass along this warning from M. Poirot:
"The result of pretending to be a more amiable, a more forgiving, a more high-minded person than one really is, has sooner or later the effect of causing one to behave as a more disagreeable, a more ruthless and an altogether more unpleasant person than is actually the case! If you dam the stream of natural behaviour, mon ami, sooner or later the dam bursts and a cataclysm occurs!" Rating: 3 stars.

152. Thornhill
Book blurb: Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a Ella unravels the mystery of the girl next door.

I really liked the format of this novel. In the 1982 timeline the story of Mary unfolds via her diary entries, and in the 2016 timeline the story of Ella is told as a wordless graphic novel. The story alternates between these two perspectives with lots of black pages in between. The Thornhill Institute for Children is the backdrop against which these stories unfold.

This is a beautifully designed book, and I especially loved the illustrations which wonderfully evoke the dark mood of the tale. I was less impressed with the text/diary sections, but that might be because of the age group this is written for. The themes explored are all important ones, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of these two girls and their stories. 4 stars for the art, 2 stars for the writing.

This horror graphic novel/diary mashup is targeted for 8-12 year old readers, and while I didn't find it scary, it might work really well for the intended age group. Rating: 3 stars.

January 8, 2018

Recent Reads

145. The Hunting Accident
Book blurb: "The Hunting Accident" is the true life story of a Chicago gangster who is blinded during a shootout and is sent to Stateville Prison where he learns to navigate life under the tutelage of real life thrill killer Nathan Leopold.

The True Crime genre has been exploding over the past several years, so it's no surprise that it has spilled over into the comics arena. There are several interesting and intersecting narratives in this one. Charlie Rizzo tells the true story about his father, Matt, to the author, who researches the story and reports back with this book. The black and white artwork by Landis Blair is fantastic, and I could spent hours looking at all that hatching and crosshatching. Simply wonderful, and it's worth picking this up for the art alone.

I didn't know about the sensational and horrible Leopold and Loeb crime, and it was interesting to learn about it, and Matt Rizzo's connection to Nathan Leopold. This is an interesting look at the crimes at the center of this story, the relationships between fathers and sons, and the power of books, stories, and unexpected friendships. Rating: 4 stars.

146. A Different Pond
"A kid at my school said my Dad's English sounds like a thick, dirty river. But to me his English sounds like gentle rain."

The immigrant experience is both universal and unique, and this picture book for kids explores themes of displacement, family, and making sense of the world around you. I'm delighted that there is more diversity in books available for kids this days, and while I appreciated this one, I enjoyed the art more than the actual text. A question I'd ask parents who read this one to their kids: how do you explain that in America people can work one or two jobs and still not have enough money for food? Rating: 3 stars.

147. Japanese Notebooks: A Journey to the Empire of Signs
Book blurb: Part graphic memoir, part cultural meditation—Igort vividly recounts his personal experiences in Japan, creating comics amid the activities of everyday life, and finding inspiration everywhere: in nature, history, custom, art, and encounters with creators including animation visionary Hayao Miyazaki.

This graphic memoir is an ode to Japanese culture, movies, and Manga, and explores much of what fascinates the author, and in this book he takes us along on the ride. The book is divided into sections that each explore a different topic of fascination. Some were more interesting to me than others, but it's always fun to see what people are drawn to. The highlight of this book is the art. It is wonderful and evocative, and captures a sense of time and place in a way that a camera never could. Something to note is that the author is Italian, and there is a certain way that outsiders look at a culture not their own that is a tad disturbing. A glossing over, if you will, that is no fault of the author, as he is not part of that world, even though the believes he was Japanese in a previous life.

With the above caveats, I'd highly recommend this one to armchair travelers, journal keepers, visual artists, readers of Manga, and anyone who has been, or is planning a visit, to Japan. Rating: 4 sars.

148. Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower #5)
At 23.0%: "Wolves on grey horses out of Thunderclap? Ooh. Delighted with the link to 'Salem's Lot."

At this point you are either all in or you are not. There is not middle ground, no sitting on the fence. I'm all in on this long, strange trip that is The Dark Tower series, and this, the fifth installment, does not disappoint. There are many reviewers who did not love it, but you either buckle in and enjoy the ride, or get the hell out.

There's not much I can say without spoilers, so here's what you need to know. Roland Deschain, aka The Gunslinger, and his ka-tet, aka his posse, are minding their own business and heading to the Dark Tower. Their journey takes them near Calla Bryn Sturgis, which looks like a tranquil farm town, but is no happy hamlet. There is a horror that befalls the townsfolk every generation or so, and our travelers might be asked to help.

There is so much I enjoyed with this one, and if you have not read 'Salem's Lot, read that before you read this one. I love how King spins out this yarn, the new people we meet, the women, the local culture, the multiverse jaunts, and the realization that guns alone will not be enough. Like most great stories, the entire book is buildup for action that lasts five minutes or so, and while most readers complained about that, it's the build up that gives the action scene its power in my opinion. After that cliff hanger of an ending I cannot wait to see what happens next on this road trip, and have the rest of the series lined up and ready to go.

I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by George Guidall. I did miss the superb narration by Frank Muller, who read the previous books, and in the afterword King explains the sad reason for this change. I did not know the man, but having spent countless hours with him in my head, he will be missed.

P.S. I watched the new Dark Tower movie the other day, and it's absolute rubbish. Don't waste your time. Read the books instead. Rating: 4 stars.

January 5, 2018

2018 Bullet Journal Setup (Video)

Something new for 2018. I'll be keeping my bullet journal in a separate book.

If the embedded video doesn't work, click here.

January 4, 2018

Cinemascope: Happy Valley (Seasons 1 & 2)

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

Happy Valley

Released in 2016.

Plot line: In a magnificent role written specifically for her, Sarah Lancashire (Last Tango in Halifax, The Paradise) shines as Catherine Cawood, a hard-working, earthy police sergeant who strides her beautiful patch of Yorkshire like a grown-up. Catherine's work and personal life are already complicated in crime-riddled Happy Valley when Tommy Lee Royce wanders into town, freshly released from prison. Was he responsible for Catherine's daughter's death, as she believes? And will her suspicion cloud her judgment when another young girl goes missing? A superb, award-winning BBC hit with a dynamite cast and six finely wrought episodes, from one of Britain's best writers, Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax, Scott & Bailey).

One of the things I love about Netflix is the ability to see TV shows from other countries. This British drama is dark and suspenseful with complex characters and complex themes. It's not your typical American style cop show, and the story arc carries over the entire season. How you feel about people and things will change as you watch the show, and isn't that why we watch?

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

January 1, 2018

Recent Reads

141. The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 1
"This is a story of two people--one human, one inhuman--who linger in the hazy twilight that separates night from day. "

This manga is wonderfully strange and atmospheric. In this fairy tale like story, there are two kingdoms: "the Outside, where twisted beasts roamed that could curse with a touch, and the Inside, where humans lived in safety and peace."

In this tale we spent time with, and get to know, a young girl called Shiva, and a monster she calls Teacher. The thing to remember (and we often forget this), what is monstress is in the eye of the beholder. I loved the sweetness of their relationship, and the black and white art wonderfully sets the mood for this dark tale, but there are so many things that are not clear as of yet. Things are revealed slowly, and I expect future volumes to fill in the blanks. This is a fun quick read. Rating: 3 stars.

142. The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 2
Just take a look at the cover art. It's a good example of how wonderful the art is in this Manga series.

This installment of the story shed more light on this dark fairy tale of a story. To be touched by a monster makes you a monster, and Shiva has been touched by one. What does will happen to her?

There are some wonderful sections in this one, especially surrounding the relationship between young Shiva and Teacher. However, there are also sections (the lake and creatures for example) that do not make sense, but I'm sure there is a larger tapestry that I am unable to see at this reading. I continue to love the art, but the story is not fleshed out enough yet for my tastes. Rating: 3 stars.

143. The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 3
Oh, I understand so much more with this installment of this fun Manga series. Things are starting to make more sense in this sweet and dark tale. The art continues to be lovely and I could look at these detailed pen and ink frames, with what looks like the crosshatching of a person not entirely sane, for hours. There's more action, and not as many tea parties in this one, but I think this is the best in the series so far. Since, there is not much I can say without spoilers, all I'll say is that I'm on board for the ride and cannot wait for the rest of the series to get published. Rating: 4 stars.

144. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Derek Perkins.

His book Sapiens was the best book I read in 2015, so when Harari released this one I got my hands on it as soon as I could. Then it sat on my TBR pile, not because I wasn't excited to read it, but because this author makes me work.

Reading his books is not an easy thing to do. He writes about the history of humans, and then projects us forward in time to possible futures. He writes about religion, philosophy, and all the isms, about technology, and medicine, and science, and social media, and the meaning of life, and really almost everything about what what it means to be human. And he does it all in a very easy to understand, accessible manner. So when I say it's not an easy read, it not about how he writes, but rather what he writes about. He makes me think, he makes me question, he upsets my mental models, and as I expected, he changed how I look at myself, humanity, and our future. That's where the work is. This is not a light, fluffy read, so wait until you are in the mood to do some heavy lifting, mentally speaking, and then settle in for a read that will change how you see yourself and the world.

I'm not going to summarize the main points of this book, because I want you to experience those Ah-Ha moments for yourself. But here's a teaser: Did you know that in 2014 a Japanese venture capital firm, Deep Knowledge, named an artificial intelligence (AI) to its board of directors? The robot, named Vital, was chosen for its ability to pick up on market trends ‘not immediately obvious to humans.' It wasn't a one-off either.

The evolution from Homo Sapiens to Home Deus is a thrilling, scary, fascinating, horrifying, enlightening, terrible, educational, entertaining, compelling, and humbling ride. Highly recommended for every human who doesn't want to go the way of the Dodo. I am not the same person I was before I read this book. Is there any higher praise? Rating: 5 stars.

December 28, 2017

Cinemascope: Manhunt:Unabomber

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

Image result for manhunt unabomber

Released in 2017.

Plot line: This miniseries tells the story of the FBI's hunt for the Unabomber in the 1990s. Agent Jim "Fitz" Fitzgerld, a fresh-faced criminal profiler with the agency, faces an uphill battle in tracking the infamous criminal but also has to fight against the bureaucracy of the Unabom Task Force (UTF), of which he is a part. Although Fitz pioneers the use of forensic linguistics, others in the UTF dismiss his maverick ideas and new approaches. Ultimately, though, his new techniques help him identify and capture the Unabomber.

Anther series that got me hooked and didn't let go. True crime is all the rage, and this exploration about the beginnings of criminal profiling, and the case of the Unabomber. The acting is really good all around, and I was delighted with the process of figuring out how this case was solved. I knew only the bare bones of the case, so most of it was new to me, and I was fascinated the entire time.

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

December 26, 2017

12 truths I learned from life and writing | Anne Lamott

As another year ends and a new one waits patiently in the wings, this talk made me think and laugh. Is there anything better?

A few days before she turned 61, writer Anne Lamott decided to write down everything she knew for sure. She dives into the nuances of being a human who lives in a confusing, beautiful, emotional world, offering her characteristic life-affirming wisdom and humor on family, writing, the meaning of God, death and more.

If the embedded video doesn't work, click here.

December 25, 2017

Recent Reads

137. 50 Festivals To Blow Your Mind
Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Every time I travel I pick up a Lonely Planet guidebook to learn more about the place and plan my trip, so was looking forward to something of the quality I've come to expect from LP. This book is something a middle school kid might have put together for an art assignment, and looks like something said kid copied and pasted together.

The book itself is small, about 4x6 inches, so it's like holding a stack of postcards in your hands. It should have worked, but the text is ridiculous, and the photos aren't good either. And another thing, while I hadn't heard of some of these festivals, mind blowing seems to be rather hyperbolic for this set.

This is the first in the 50 Series by Lonely Planet, and I had planned to pick up the entire set. Well, that's not going to happen. Skip this book, read the Goodreads summary for the list of festivals, and look up the ones you find interesting on Wiki. Trust me on this mates. Rating: 1 star.

138. Dare to Sketch: A Guide to Drawing on the Go
I'd recommend this one for beginner artists and people new to keeping sketchbooks. There's some good advice in here, and I like the loose style the author uses in his sketches. If you are not a newbie, this one is pretty basic, but the actual book itself is wonderfully designed, and the art fun to look at. Rating: 3 stars.

139. Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth
Bringing a child into the world has got to be a life changing thing, especially in the world we inhabit these days. This lovely picture book is written for the author's baby son, introducing him to this planet we all call home. The art is lovely and the message about taking care of oneself as well as the planet spot on. As with most books by the author, I appreciated the art more than the text. This would be good read aloud book for the littles in your life. Rating: 3 stars.

140. The Lotterys Plus One
2.5 stars.

This is a story targeted at 8-12 year old readers, and I think it's wonderful that books like these exist today.

This is the story of a large, blended, queer family told from the point of 9 year old Sumac Lottery. Her family consists of "four parents, children both adopted and biological, and a menagerie of pets, all living and learning together in a sprawling house called Camelottery." One day out of the blue, there is news that a grandfather she didn't know existed is moving in with them, and he changes the world as she knows it.

This is a cute story, and almost every possible alternative lifestyle choice is thrown into the mix, including all the kids being home schooled. Things are interesting and chaotic, but that's part of the fun. I did feel that there were simply too many balls this story was juggling to be really successful, but I appreciated the effort to try and include as diverse a group as possible. The other major issue is the premise as to why this family has the name they have, which means that money is simply not an issue. Maybe that would have been one too many topics to tackle, but given all the themes already in the mix, this was a huge oversight in my opinion.

There are too many characters, and none were fleshed out enough to be able to really tell them apart. Not sure why the story needed so many characters, and the action does take a while to get going. I was annoyed with the parents for much of the reading, because you can't really be so alternative and then behave in a conventional manner when it comes to dealing with an aging parent, or at least talk about alternatives. Granted, this is from a 9 year old's POV, so probably lots of this might have been going on behind the scenes. I enjoyed the final several chapters the most, and while I didn't love it as much as I expected to, I do appreciate that stories like these are now available for kids to read, so rounded up. Rating: 3 stars.

December 21, 2017

Cinemascope: Alias Grace

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

Image result for alias grace

Released in 2017.

Plot line: Based on the 1996 Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, "Alias Grace" tells the story of young Grace Marks, a poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant in Upper Canada who is accused and convicted of the 1843 murder of her employer and his housekeeper. Stablehand James McDermott is also convicted of the crime. McDermott is hanged, but Grace is sentenced to life in prison, leading her to become one of the most notorious women of the period in Canada. The story is based on actual 19th-century events.

Netflix continues to produce fantastic content, and this is one is no exception. I have yet to read the book, but this interesting series explores themes of family, poverty, the agency, or not, of women, crime, and the norms of the period. Wonderful acting, and as with any Atwood story it as has a fascinating story at its center.

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

December 18, 2017

Recent Reads

133. Origin (Robert Langdon #5)
"Historically, the most dangerous men on earth were men of God ... especially when their gods became threatened."

I've been reading some fairly dense stuff lately and was in the mood for a fast paced thriller, so when this popped up at my library I started it immediately.

It starts off really well, but to quote a New Yorker cartoon by Ellis Rosen: "The problem is that there's no engine. Just a mysterious plot device."

That essentially sums up my thoughts on this, the fifth, Robert Langdon installment. Brown always has interesting themes to explore, and I get hooked on the premise. In this case: "Where do we come from? Where are we going?"

Sounds awesome right? The science and the descriptions of locations in Spain are indeed really great, but the the writing is mediocre, the characters actually boring, and I saw the twist coming fairly early on. Typical boiler plate Dan Brown at this point. I wish this was a multimedia book so I could watch Edmond Kirsch's presentation - that's the part I found fascinating.

I'm currently reading Homo Deus, which covers similar material, but in a five star manner and I'd highly recommend it. I much preferred Brown's earlier books, but the power of this one might well be that people who would otherwise never get exposed to the themes explored here will read it because it is a Dan Brown book. It's a fast read, and I was done with the almost 500 pages in a day. Rating: 2 stars.

134. The Atlas of Beauty: Women of the World in 500 Portraits
Movies and magazines would have you think that there is only standard of beauty for women, namely skinny and white. Since the majority of the women on this planet do not meet this standard, why does this model continue to to sell? Add that to the long list of things I don't understand.

This is book is a photo essay. It's a collection of photographs of women from various parts of the world, and it made me smile. Homo Sapiens is one species and a single race, but oh the diverse ways we adapted to our environs is indeed a thing of beauty. I had not heard about the popular blog that this collection draws from and plan to take a look see. My only complaint is that while many of the photos are luminous, the text is subpar at best. Nature is beautiful, and this book is a wonderful meditation on just that. Rating: 4 stars.

135. Providence Act 1 (Providence #1-4)
The works of Alan Moore are hit or miss for me, and this one is a miss. I think this is partly my fault, as I don't know or understand the works/memes it's paying homage to or building upon, so it's probably just me. There are some cool aspects to this comic series. I quite liked some sections of the story and the art is good throughout. However, I really did not like the stories within stories in this one. While I'm usually a fan of journals, in this case, the journal pages were in a font that I found hard to read, and I found the pamphlets annoying, so I lost steam there. The horror aspect was interesting, the art creepily good, but I didn't like it enough to continue with the series. Rating: 2 stars.

136. Garbage Night (Vacancy #2)
2.5 stars.

This graphic novel tells the tale of a dog, Simon, and his best friends, a raccoon and a deer. Something has happened to all the humans, and domesticated animals and animals that depend on human scraps have the toughest time of it. This volume contains two stories, and I'd suggest going to the end and reading how the trio meets before reading the main story.

I quite liked the art and the depiction of these anthropomorphic animals in their tattered human clothing. The colors make the illustrations pop. The main story however seemed to lack something and seemed unfinished. I did like how themes of friendship and bullying were handled, but the plot wasn't compelling enough for me. This is written for kids, so it might work much better for that audience. Rating: 2 stars.

December 15, 2017

Non-fiction November

I participated in Non-fiction November this year, and these are the books and documentaries that I completed during the month. You can read my comments on my Instagram account.

December 14, 2017

Cinemascope: Confirmation

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: Judge Clarence Thomas' nomination to the United States Supreme Court is called into question when Anita Hill, a former colleague, testifies that he sexually harassed her.

I remember the Anita Hill hearings, and the classic BS of a woman not being believed. This TV movie dramatizes that event, and it made me oh so angry. Again. It's interesting to watch it 25 years later during the #MeToo movement and fallout. It's a straight up account of this historical event, but I did learn a couple of things I didn't know.

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

December 11, 2017

Recent Reads

130. Pen and Ink
Book blurb: Exploring over 100 pieces of artwork by contemporary artists, Pen & Ink highlights and examines the different techniques, qualities, and effects relating to each piece.

This little book is like holding a small curated collection of pen and ink art in your hands. I appreciated the diverse styles on display with this simple medium, and as with all collections some art spoke to me while others did not. I would have liked more information about the pieces themselves, still, this is a good book to flip through when you're looking for pen and ink inspiration. Rating: 3 stars.

131. Hostage
3.5 stars.

Translated from the French by Helge Dascher.

Moved this up my TBR for non-fiction November. If you are familiar with his oeuvre, you know that the author usually writes graphic memoirs about his life as the spouse of a Doctors Without Borders administrator in various parts of the world. This book departs from his usual fare and tells the true story of Christophe Andre, a man kidnapped on his very first MSF assignment. You know that Christophe survives because he is the one telling the story to the author, but I think if you decide to read this book, the less you know about where he's taken, how long he's held, and how he survives the better the reveal.

The author uses his signature illustration style and a limited color palette to wonderfully evoke the right mood for this experience. Boredom and mundane life stuff is intermingled with moments of sheer terror, and the use of first person point of view is very effective. How would one stay sane when held captive and is mostly in isolation? I couldn't help thinking that this would have been a very different story if the kidnapped person was a woman.

I really liked the art style, but this one is over 400 pages and very little happens for most of it. I understand that we don't know anything about the kidnappers and their motivation because of the language barrier, so we only know what the narrator knows, which is nothing at all. On the plus side this created the right level of bleakness in the reading, but on the other hand, there were times when all that day to day repetition seemed tedious. I do think that the author captures the slow manner in which time passed for the hostage effectively, so for that I'll round up. Rating: 4 stars.

132. Lighter Than My Shadow
Book blurb: Lighter Than My Shadow is a hand-drawn story of struggle and recovery, a trip into the black heart of a taboo illness, an exposure of those who are so weak as to prey on the vulnerable, and an inspiration to anybody who believes in the human power to endure towards happiness.

Moved this up my TBR for non-fiction November, and I've procrastinated writing my review for this graphic memoir because I'm not sure I can adequately convey why I love it so. I find that's often true for things that evoke deep emotion. All you can say is "you had to be there."

This is a book that deals with the author's struggles with anxiety, anorexia, and sexual assault, and it's not an easy book to read. I loved the art, and how she tells her story. There are so many panels/pages without words, and it's a powerful way to leave space for the reader's own emotions about the material.

Let's first talk about the physical book. Weight is an issue throughout this narrative. Her weight, or lack of it, in particular, so it's rather amazing that this 500 page volume has the heft it does. The heft of the book is much heavier than you'd expect, or it needs to be. You read this story of a girl/ woman struggling with weight while holding an overly heavy book in your hands. It's a tactile experience. Then there are these dark black squiggly tornado like lines that hover over her head, sometimes it's small, and other times it takes over the panel/page. It wasn't until about half way through the book that I realized that those squiggles actually have texture. I went back and ran my fingers over the pages I had already read. Another tactile clue while reading. So even though I was reading a 2D book, there was additional information being transmitted to my brain.

As mentioned earlier, I love the artistic style of the illustrations. The monochromatic use of color is very effective in setting the right mood. I appreciated the honesty in the telling. The author says in the introduction: "It exists because I wanted nobody else to feel as lost, confused and alone as I felt. I wanted to be honest about how hard recovery is, and how long it takes, at the same providing that it is possible." We might not struggle with her exact issues, but anyone who struggles with something will seem parts of themselves in this story. I looked a long time at some of her wordless scenes as entire worlds seem captured in them. There's an illustration where she's eaten something, and the black squiggly tornado is inside her body. She opens her mouth and reaches her hand down her throat trying to pull it out. There are no words, but I don't think I've ever understood the urge to purge in such a visceral way before.

My library system has the Young Adult label on this one, and I would highly recommend it to anyone struggling/recovering from these issues, and everyone who loves them. Rating: 5 stars.

December 6, 2017

Rushed Bill Goes Far Beyond Taxation

So I guess "Making America Great Again" equals huge tax breaks for corporations (especially ones that deal with real estate, hmm wonder who that'd benefit?), continuing to destroy the environment (who the hell goes to Alaska anyway?), and millions of Americans without healthcare. Oh, and those of you who live in a state with income and other state taxes, you might want to see how you get f#$#ed with this one too.

Want more information? Click here.

December 4, 2017

Recent Reads

127. Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves
If you are a fan of the Humans of New York blog or books, pick this one up. If you are a girl, woman, or have one of those in your life, pick this one up.

It will do your heart good to flip though this collection of photos and quotes from girls. The photos are beautiful, and some of the quotes make me stop in my tracks, look at the girl, and then re-read it. I have a complaint though, and it's not a minor one. This is a collection of mostly white, thin, athletic girls, and there are many who will not find themselves represented here. I'm tempted to get a copy for my nieces, but am conflicted about giving them yet another book they won't see themselves in. I would have loved to see more diversity in all it's forms, so will keep my fingers crossed that this is the first volume in a larger body of work. The other issue I had with the book is that it's broken into sections, and the photos don't match the section headers particularly well. Also, the introduction to each section was rather weak. All those flaws not withstanding, this was a book that made me smile, and the portraits of these girls makes this one worth picking up. Rating: 3 stars.

128. Transfer
I've read several poems by the author that I've loved, but for some reason my library system didn't have the collection I wanted to read, so I tried this one instead.

This collection is a homage to her father and her grief at his death. There is much here that is universal, and I especially liked the ones that dealt with the immigrant/exiled man her father became after leaving Palestine.

I copied some of the lines into my journal, and there were times I stopped reading because I was stunned by the imagery evoked, but overall this is not a collection I loved. I say that knowing full well that poetry is not my usual fare, so the fault might be all mine, and there I'll leave it. Rating: 3 stars.

129. Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower #4)
I'm listening to The Dark Tower series on audio, and this one continues to be superbly narrated by Frank Muller.

Holy moly, what a long strange trip this has been. So many reviewers hated this installment. It's mostly backstory, and we get to spend time with 14 year old Roland, his first ka-tet and his great love. There's lots of action, gun (and other kinds of) fights, curses, scheming, betrayal, and a love story. I loved every minute of this one. I loved the old timey Western feel, I loved the love story, I loved learning about the events that shaped the Gunslinger, and I developed a crush on the man. There are so many new characters, and for change I don't have to complain about the women, who are wonderfully fleshed out here. As usual King spins a wonderful yarn with lots of tangents, and nods to his other books and popular culture. Oh Kansas, how interesting you are in stories. I loved every minute of this one, and in my opinion it's the best in the series so far, and might well be the best thing he's ever written. Rating: 5 stars.

November 30, 2017

Cinemascope: This Is Us (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 this is us season 2 poster

Released in 2017.

Plot line: The Pearson family's generational story unfolds in this emotional drama. In moments of love, joy, triumph and heartbreak, revelations emerge from parents Jack and Rebecca's past, while triplets Kate, Randall and Kevin discover deeper meaning in their present day lives.

I finished watching the season finale yesterday, and seriously love this show. One of the best on TV at the moment in my opinion. I love the exploration of real issues, complex people, and no easy answers to what life throws your way. I cannot talk about why I love this one more without spoilers, so do yourself a favor and give it a try. So dang good.

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

November 27, 2017

Recent Reads

124. Poppies of Iraq
This graphic memoir shares "memories of her middle class childhood touching on cultural practices, the education system, Saddam Hussein's state control, and her family's history as Orthodox Christians in the Arab world."

It should have worked, as it's not often that we get such a close up look into the lives of people only seen as a problem or collateral damage here in the Western news. It didn't work because it felt too disjointed in the telling, and while there were some really illuminating anecdotes, for the most part this read more like a book written for family records than an outsider like me. The art is cutesy, which I didn't love, and there were family photos interspersed throughout the book that were too small and dark and not labeled, so I'm not sure why they were included, other than as proof that these events described did indeed take place. An OK but not memorable read. Rating: 2 stars.

125. A Bride's Story, Vol. 5
We continue this series with a much anticipated wedding. The twins are finally getting hitched. I continue to love the historical setting, and the art is astoundingly good; the pen and ink details showcases the talents of a master craftswoman. I really loved getting an insider look at all the customs and traditions of marriage in these communities, but overall this was my least favorite of the series so far. The twins are bit too shout-y in this one, and while I empathize with their frustrations, I was glad to leave them behind as our journey along the Silk Road takes us away from what is hopefully wedded bliss for the two of them. Rating: 3 stars.

126. The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower #3)
3.5 stars.

I'm listening to this series on audio, and this one continues to be superbly narrated by Frank Muller.

This, the third book in the Dark Tower series, is fantastic and page turnery in parts, and plodding and oh so slow in others. There's not much I can say without spoilers, so all I'll say is that I quite enjoyed the way King plays with the concept of multiverses and the ripples caused by changes in any one. I also enjoyed following this strange band of travelers on their journey, and it's always fun to see how King weaves in tips of the hat to his other books and popular culture. This one, of course, ends with a whopper of a cliff hanger, and I started the next book in the series as soon as I finished it. If this was a standalone book, I'd round down, but am enjoying the series so much that I'll round up instead. Rating: 4 stars.

November 23, 2017

Cinemascope: The Exception

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 exception

Released in 2016.

Plot line: German soldier Stefan Brandt goes on a mission to investigate exiled German Monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser lives in a secluded mansion in the Netherlands, and as Germany is taking over Holland, the country's authorities are concerned that Dutch spies may be watching the Kaiser. As Brandt begins to infiltrate the Kaiser's life in search of clues, he finds himself drawn into an unexpected and passionate romance with Mieke, one of the Kaiser's maids.

I cannot recall how it is that I requested this title, but it was certainly not what I expected. A wonderful period piece of a dark time in history told through the specific lives of a handful of characters. The themes explored gave me lots to think about. The only strange thing about it is that the characters are all German, yet everyone has a British accent. Not sure I understood that choice, but really good nonetheless.

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

November 21, 2017

2017 Sketchbook Part 2: Inktober Journal Flip (Video)

A flip of the second section of my cheapo sketchbook, in which I discuss the art supplies used and pages created for Inktober this year.

If the embedded video doesn't work, click here.

Link to Part 1.
Link to Part 2.

November 20, 2017

Recent Reads

121. How to Make Friends with a Ghost
This picture book might well be the perfect Halloween read for the littles in your life. It didn't work as well for this adult reader however. The art is cute and colorful, and there are things that made me smile, but there isn't anything that made me want to hug this book, or give it to someone else and say, here read this! And given that it's targeted at kids, that ending is rather strange no? Rating: 2 stars.

122. Shadow of the Lions
DNFed at 47%.

I listened to the audiobook which is well narrated by James Anderson Foster.

Every year when the air gets chilly and the leaves start to fall I find myself in the mood for a campus novel. This one is set at elite Blackburne, a boys boarding school, with two main timelines, one when the main character is at the school as a student, and one where he comes back a decade later as a teacher. It does have an atmospheric setting, but this is mislabeled as a thriller. Yes, there is a mystery, but there wasn't much of a plot or a compelling enough reason to keep reading. I bailed at about the halfway point, at the play by play account of a football game. There is no character development to speak of, so the characters are all rather flat, and ultimately I didn't care enough to see how this story played out. The writing itself is not bad, but if I'd read it through it might have received a 2 star rating, so why bother? Rating: 1 stars,

123. Bitch Planet, Vol. 2: President Bitch
Rated M for Mature indeed.

The setting is the near future, and if you are woman who does not conform to what the men you encounter want you to be, you get shipped off to a the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. But how did this come to pass? This volume covers some of that back story.

I loved the first volume, but this one did not work as well for me. I am still totally on board for the premise, the hard look at patriarchal modes and the men and women who aid in keeping the system in place, but something was lost in this installment for me. I can't quite place a finger on it, as I continue to like the diverse characters in the story. My fave parts were the ads between story sections. Loved every one of those. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood and will continue on to see if the sparkle I found in the first volume returns. Rating: 3 stars.

November 16, 2017

Cinemascope: Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

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

Image result for joan didion documentary poster

Released in 2017.

Plot line: Literary icon Joan Didion reflects on her remarkable career and personal struggles in this intimate documentary directed by her nephew, Griffin Dunne.

While I have not read all her work, Joan Didion is a author I admire, so was delighted when Netflix released this documentary. There are criticisms about this documentary, and I would agree with some of it. Having a nephew tell this story means that things are slanted a certain way. There is way too much about her husband and not nearly enough about the author and her critical mind, let alone the fashionista side to her. But then, maybe no-one other than family would have had enough access to make this documentary, so we've got to take what we're given. I'm fascinated by the public/private personas of celebrity figures, and this gave me insights into the woman.

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

November 14, 2017

2017 Sketchbook Part 2: July to Sept Journal Flip (Video)

In which I share a chatty flip of the first section of my cheapo sketchbook.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

November 13, 2017

Recent Reads

118. A Halloween Treat & Edward Gorey's Ghosts
This little book has two stories. Halloween Treat is a fun tale of trick or treating, and when you turn the book over and start from the back you find a curated sample of his Ghosts oeuvre. This is a fun little book, but I'd only recommend it to Edward Gorey fans. It's all about the art. The words are simply window dressing, and could be skipped entirely. The art though is something else. All that pen and ink. I would love to see some of these in a larger format as as to really appreciate the detailed cross hatching. I love this his artistic style, and it would be a fun exercise to make up your own stories for each page. Rating: 3 stars.

119. Pandora's Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong
Sometimes I wonder why I bother with fiction when there are nonfiction books like these waiting for me to dive into.

We often forget that what we consider advances today come at a cost. Sometimes the cost is bearable, other times it's not. Or at the very least it's not us that bear it. Smart people make mistakes. Smart people believe junk "science". Everyone is influenced by the cultural, political, social, economic, and scientific worlds they live in, and to pretend otherwise is naive. The path to hell is indeed often paved with good intentions, and as this book illuminates, there are many versions of hell.

This book is well researched and well written, and I was horrified, educated, and fascinated from the first page to the last. I knew about some of the events in these seven chapters, but the author does a wonderful job of connecting pieces in a way I had not know about, or even considered, but I don't want to review the specific histories mentioned as that would spoil the reveal. I was really disturbed by this one, so much so that I asked my partner to also read it so I'd have someone to discuss it with.

I listened to the audiobook which is well narrated by Paul Tremblay, and this should be required reading for every single person, even if the last time you attended a science class was in the 7th grade.

This book gave me a new framework with which to discuss these topics, educated me on things I didn't know about, and connected dots in a way that changed my understanding of the world. One of the best books I've read this year. Rating: 5 stars.

120. Night Waking
I've struggled with how to rate this book. There are 5 star sections, and 2 star sections. I was compelled to read on while I had it in my hands, but reluctant to pick it back up once I had put it down.

The setting is an isolated island in the Hebrides. Anna Bennett, her two kids, and husband have moved here so that hubby can count the puffins. Anna, a historian, in unable to get any work done as she is sleep deprived, and has her hands full with motherly and wifely duties. One day while digging in the garden the bones of an infant are uncovered. Whose bones are these?

There are stories within stories within stories in this novel. It is very atmospheric, and I was delighted with the frank and honest way Anna's ambivalence at being a mother is described. It is not often we get such direct light shed on this holy of holies. Work family balance? No such thing here. I was intrigued by the history of childhood, and the paper that Anna works on is interspersed throughout the novel. It was interesting reading about Anna's inner life and her struggles. However, I could have cared less about the mystery at the core of this story, though it was interesting to learn more about the natives and their history. All these various plot lines get rather muddled in the final telling, at least for me. This is a quiet, character driven story, so if you're looking for a fast paced plot, skip this one.

The author is wonderfully skilled at crafting these worlds within worlds, and as I've already said, there are sections of breathtaking beauty. I am still hard pressed to give this a higher rating because of my ambivalence with it overall. That being said, I do plan to read her other books as there is real talent here, and this is one of her earlier ones. Rating: 3 stars.

November 9, 2017

Cinemascope: Gerald's Game

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

Image result for gerald's game movie poster

Released in 2017.

Plot line: While trying to spice up their marriage in their remote lake house, Jessie must fight to survive when her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her handcuffed to their bed frame.

I'm not really a fan of scary movies, especially slasher types, but I do try to creep myself out with season books and movies around Halloween. When this showed up on Netflix, I started to watch it, got totally spooked so had to stop watching. Then went back after several days, during day light hours, and finished watching it. This is based on a Stephen King book of the same name, and it's really good. It's not what you think it's about when you start, but don't read any reviews, go in cold and see what you think.

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

November 7, 2017

2017 Sketchbook Part 1: Supplies and Background Prep (video)

In which I answer questions about my current cheapo sketchbook and supplies.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

November 6, 2017

Recent Reads

115. Paper Girls, Vol. 3
I think I might need one of those universal translator thingies so I can figure out what the heck is going on here. Every installment has the four girls and their future selves in different times and places, and this one is the craziest of them all so far. Are we in the future or the past? Does it matter? Time folds in on itself in dizzying ways, but the art continues to be really good, the girls continue to be brave and work on figuring out what is going on, and usual teen stuff keeps surfacing. Speaking of surfacing, monsters do that too. A fun if still confusing romp. Where the heck is this headed? Rating: 3 stars.

116. Ms. Marvel, Vol. 7: Damage Per Second
It actually hurts me to give this such a low rating. I love the premise of this graphic novel series, and I really admire the diversity of the characters and the issues discussed, but this installment felt like reading a PSA (public service announcement).

There are essentially three story lines. The first is a straight forward get out the vote pamphlet, and since it was released after the US elections I'm not sure why they bothered with it. The second story line is about the internet and gaming, and while I agree that we should all be kinder and treat each other respectfully, did we need this entire section for that PSA? And finally we zoom over to Bruno in Wakanda. Am I the only one who didn't recall what he was doing there? Anyways, hi-jinks ensue, but they seemed rather forced given the players involved.

I continue to like the art and the overall themes, but the writing felt really weak in this installment. Has it Ms. Marvel finally run out of steam? Rating: 2 stars.

117. Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002
30% in and on the DNF pile this goes.

I'm a fan of his essays, but this collection of diary entries felt tedious to read. While there is some humor, I found myself mostly annoyed with this one. The author expects us to dip in and out, and maybe I'll do that at some date if some reader I trust tells me it's worth pushing through, but in the meanwhile I'd be better off going back and reading my own old journals!

I listened to the audiobook which is well narrated by the author, but don't care enough to continue. Rating: 1 star.

November 4, 2017

Journal pages

Here are my final drawings for Inktober 2017. As always click on the images to view larger.






I always have such a fun time with this challenge, and having done two of these now an certainly learned some things that I'll put into effect for next year. As usual I love some of the sketches better than others, but I'm quite proud of myself for holding to a daily sketching and posting schedule for 31 days. Done is better than perfect.

October 31, 2017

Journal pages

It's October which means it's time for another Inktober. I'll be posting daily on my Instagram page (@kisiwa82) and will update my blog every week or so with my sketches. I'm doing my own thing and not following the prompts. If you are playing along do let me know so I can see your art too. As always click on the photos for a larger image.