September 30, 2014

Piper Kerman @ UMassLowell

I spent this chilly and rainy night at UMass Lowell's new student center. And holy smokes, the area around the North Campus has dramatically changed for the better.

I was there to hear Piper Kerman talk about her book Orange Is the New Black, which is also a Netflix series hit I mentioned in my Cinemascope post last week.

Piper gave a riveting and educational talk tonight @UMassLowell. One of the top ten author talks I've ever attended.

There were long, long lines to see Piper tonight. The room was full, so people were directed to overflow areas with a TV feed. The book gods smiled on us - we were pulled out of an overflow conference room and given seats front and center!

A fun evening at my old alma mater with Charlene and Janice (a senior in Chemical Engineering I met in line). 

Journal page

The thing about art is that it helps to center me when I am out of sorts. I created this page over several weeks, a little bit at a time. The page started with some leftover acrylic paint slapped on from another project. Then I added the girl in pencil. Decided I wanted her to be in the background of a two page spread, so added text blocks with white acrylic paint.

While reading Americanah, I came across a quote that I thought would be perfect to use for these pages, so made a note of it. Added it to the white text blocks with a blue pen, and played with the font by simply making lines thicker. 

The girl on the left side of the spread was inspired by a singer in a magazine. Added texture to her dress with a pencil, then painted her in with watercolors. Added in some shapes and colored them with Sharpie Flip Chart makers. Gave the layout a black border with the same, and added textured white dots using the end of a paintbrush dipped in white acrylic paint.

Here is the completed spread. A true mixed media project.

As always, click on any image to view larger.

Mixed media in my large single signature art journal.

September 29, 2014

Recent Reads

133. The Whale Rider
I saw the movie based on this novella when it came out years ago, and remember really liking it. I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Jay Laga'aia, and would recommend the audio as there are Maori phrases and music that add to the enjoyment of this story. 

I love creation stories, and this one retells an ancient Maori legend juxtaposed with the present day lives of the Maori. Kahu is a young Maori girl who has the misfortune of not being born the boy her Great-Grandfather desperately wanted. This story switches back and forth between her struggle to find her place in the world, and the reminiscences of the ancient whale of legends. The book is populated with wonderful characters, and explores themes of holding on to one's culture in a modern world, gender politics, and coming of age in a changing world. While written for a young adult audience, this one is a lovely read for adults as well. Rating: 3 stars.

134. Outlander (Outlander #1)
I've had this series on my TBR for years. Many people I know love it, and I'd socked away these books for a rainy day. So what was the compelling event to start? The STARZ original series of course. I love chunkster books, so imagine my disappointment when this one did not grab me, and I almost quit several times.

I love historical fiction, so did enjoy the setting and time frames, but that is about all I liked. I like a good romance as much as the next person, but this one read like the Mills and Boon stories I devoured as a teenager. Also, there is no science fiction to this story. Walking through a circle of stones to a time 200 years earlier does not science fiction make people. It is an easy way to create time travel without having to explain how it works, and while I was OK with that, sci-fi fans beware. There were some fun characters in this book, but they all seemed rather one dimensional - the hero, the damsel in distress, the witch, etc. I needed more depth to these characters to connect with them. An interesting aside, the bad guy is one of the more multifaceted people in this story. 

So let's say that you suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. Is it even remotely possible that you walk through a portal, end up 200 years back in time and seem to have no distress at all? Okay, there is some shock when you figure out that you are in a different era, but then nothing? Really? Spoiler ahead: [And given the choice to stay there, or go back to your time, you choose to stay? Really? All eras are tough for women, but you, an educated woman with options, chooses to stay in a era 200 years before your own for love? Right. Must have been great sex!].

Unfortunately I was bored for much of this book, and will certainly not be reading the rest of the series. Ah well, at least I tried. Rating: 2 stars.

135. The Shadow Hero
Book blurb: In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity... The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.

A Chinese mother decides that her son should be a superhero, so makes him a costume - never mind that he actually has no powers - and what an outfit it is! This was a fun graphic novel with wonderful art.  Rating: 3 stars.

September 25, 2014

Cinemascope: Orange is the New Black (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 2013.

Plot line: The story of Piper Chapman, a woman in her thirties who is sentenced to fifteen months in prison after being convicted of a decade-old crime of transporting money for her drug-dealing girlfriend.

I was a huge fan of Season 1 of Prison Break, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed the prison setting. If you have yet to watch it, I would highly recommend that as well. I also tried Oz, but was not sucked into the story or characters, so bailed after a handful of episodes. Then along comes Orange is the New Black, based on a memoir of the same name. The story is set in a women's prison, deals with themes of sexuality, criminality, class, race, etc and is so good. 

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

September 24, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 09.24.14

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September 23, 2014

Broken Monsters Tour

I love indie bookstores, and am always on the lookout for author visits. Tonight at Porter Square Books, the South African author Lauren Beukes was in town.

She was interviewed by the author Joe Hill, who came prepared with "essay type" questions followed by a "speed round".

The dynamics between these two authors was quite enjoyable to watch. They riffed off each other really well.

Lauren gave two readings from her latest novel Broken Monsters. She is a dynamic reader and left me wanting more. This book will be moving to the top of my TBR pile.

Lauren is funny and articulate and a natural story teller. To this Kenyan girl hearing her say that "Johannesburg is the New York City of Africa" made me laugh out loud.

A fun evening is always better when shares with friends. Here is the requisite selfie taken with book buddies Julia and Cate.

Just why does the NFL have tax-exempt status?

Top of my head blew off today when I learned that the NFL does not pay any taxes because it is a non-profit!  

Journal page

I've been playing with faces and colored pencils lately. Colored pencils are remarkably portable, and I do not need to worry about the cheap paper buckling. Here is a face on HONY that captured my attention.

(Click to view larger)

Pen and watercolors in my large cheapo art journal. 

September 22, 2014

Recent Reads

129. The Heist (Gabriel Allon #14)
I'm a huge Gabriel Allon fan, but I humbly disagree with many of the rave reviews of this, the 14th book in the series. 

Can it really be summer without time spent with my fave Mossad assassin and art restorer? I think not. Every year I have the publication date marked in my calendar, and eagerly await the new release of one of my fave characters in a contemporary series. As I look at my reviews of the previous books in this series, I see that my ratings have been dropping, but how can I resist attending the reunion of the Barak team every summer?

This one is the worst in the series so far. It is rather formulaic and the writing seems rote. The characters are recycled without any additional depth added. The story is almost the same as a couple others in the series, just updated with Syrian troubles. I almost did not finish it, and that makes me sad. If you have yet to read about the exploits of the man named like an archangel, I would highly recommend reading some of the earlier books in this series. But skip this one.

And yet. I'll be waiting to see if there is a new installment next July. Come on Mr. Silva, give this junkie a good fix. Please. Rating: 2 stars.

130. The Polysyllabic Spree

Book blurb: In his monthly column "Stuff I've Been Reading", Nick Hornby lists the books he's purchased and the books he's read that month - they almost never overlap - and briefly discusses the books he's actually read.

This little collection of essays is a delightful read. Some people can vegetables, the rest of us hoard books. If you are the type of person who buys books whenever you walk by a bookstore, because even though you have 1000 or so unread books on your shelves at home, you are concerned about the coming apocalypse and are never sure that you have enough reading material to get you through those dark days ahead, then this is perfect book for you. Reading each short essay is like having a drink with a literate reader friend, and every essay adds more books to that pile you must someday read. 

Funny that I have yet to read any of the author's novels, but there are 4 books in this essay series, and I plan to slowly savor my way through them all. Rating: 4 stars.

131. Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

Book blurb: Sum is a dazzling exploration of funny and unexpected afterlives that have never been considered–each presented as a vignette that offers us a stunning lens through which to see ourselves here and now.

What do you think happens when you die? Do you believe in an afterlife? Well, I'll bet that you have never considered the afterlife scenarios explored in this little book. This book is what you get when an incredibly imaginative mind ponders the afterlife. Each story is about a page or two in length, and this is one to read slowly, or read aloud and then discuss. Some of the stories are just OK, hence the deduction of a star, but I highly recommend this gem of a book. Rating: 4 stars.

132. 11/22/63

I've spent the past two weeks walking about a hundred miles while listening to this audiobook wonderfully narrated by Craig Wasson, and for the majority of those 30 hours and 44 minutes, Stephen King had me enthralled with this yarn. He would have made a great traveling bard in the land of ago.

If you could go back in time, what would you change? Humans have probably been asking ourselves that question ever since we conceived the notion of time. I think we all believe that knowing what we know now, we would be better, braver, more courageous. I'm not so sure.

This is not a horror story, nor is it a science fiction one. Sure, there is time travel - but basically there is a portal in the pantry of an old diner that lets one step back to September 9, 1958. Same place, same day, same year, every single time. There is no dial you can move to switch things around. Enter Jake Epping, a high school English teacher, who steps through and has the chance to change lots of things, including trying to stop the assassination of JFK. Note that he gets there in 1958, so has several years to kill (hah!) while waiting for the main event. There is a lot of time spent on him trying to build an ordinary life while waiting, and some of that strained my patience. King is wordy, as usual, and there could have been some editing that would have made the story tighter in my opinion. I did like getting to know the various characters in the story, but felt that the ending was rather rushed compared to the sedate pace of the rest of the story. Still, a thoroughly enjoyable yarn, well worth the time. Rating: 4 stars.

September 20, 2014

Mac Barnett: Why a good book is a secret door (Video)

Childhood is surreal. Why shouldn't children's books be? In this whimsical talk, award-winning author Mac Barnett speaks about writing that escapes the page, art as a doorway to wonder — and what real kids say to a fictional whale.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

September 19, 2014

September morning

Waking up to a lovely sunrise on this chilly September morning. The geese have started heading South my friends, and we are sucking the marrow out of sailing season before it is all over.

Winter is coming!

September 18, 2014

Cinemascope: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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

Released in 2014.

Plot line: The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

Comedy is a very personal thing, and this one really worked for me. With a wonderful ensemble cast, this story is about the misadventures of a concierge, and had me laughing out loud.  

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

September 17, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 09.17.14

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September 16, 2014

Journal page

YouTube is a wealth of art instructions, and Steve Harpster has some fun cartoon sketches you could do with kids. They are easy to follow ans quite delightful. Here is my dragon.

(Click on image to view larger)

Pen and watercolors in my large cheapo art journal. 

September 15, 2014

Recent Reads

125. Finding Nouf (Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi #1)
You know what occurred to me the other day? It has been way too long since I read a book with camels in it.

What caught my attention about this book is the premise: In a blazing hot desert in Saudi Arabia, a search party is dispatched to find a missing young woman. 

I poured myself tall glasses of passion ice tea and settled in for what I hoped would be a great read. Alas, it was not. There is a mystery at the heart of the story, but as far as mysteries go, it was rather light. More interesting were some of the behind the scenes cultural insights shared, but it also felt rather cliched and written for a Western audience who might not have read other books that take a reader behind the veil. And while I appreciate the author's writing skill, it is not enough to read the next couple of books in this trilogy. Rating: 2 stars.

126. Boxers (Boxers & Saints #1)
Book blurb: China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants. Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers - commoners trained in kung fu - who fight to free China from "foreign devils."

This historical graphic novel is targeted at a teen audience, and is an excellent reminder of all the gaps of knowledge I have about China's long, long history. War is hell. For all sides. This colorful book explores the cultural differences, propaganda, misunderstandings and consequences of this chapter in China's history from one perspective. I will be reading the companion book Saints, which explores this same period in history from the other side. Rating: 3 stars.

127. Saints (Boxers & Saints #2)
Book blurb: China, 1898. An unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn't even given a proper name by her family when she's born. She finds friendship--and a name, Vibiana--in the most unlikely of places: Christianity. 

This historical graphic novel is a companion novel to Boxers, and I would recommend reading that one first. Yes, Boxers does have spoilers for Saints, but in my opinion the story is stronger for reading it first. 

I quite like how these two books complement each other. Often we only hear one side of a story, but we all know full well that there is another version that is equally true and valid. One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. 

Targeted for a young adult audience, this graphic novel explores an alternate point of view of the Boxer rebellion, but more importantly how the personal struggles of a young girl can be a part of a national and historic moment in time. Rating: 3 stars.

128. Beautiful Darkness
Book blurb: This unsettling and gorgeous anti-fairy tale is a searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil writ tiny.

This fairy tale is disturbing on many levels. The art is light and quaint, and then you see what you are really looking at, and there isn't anything quaint about it. This dark tale explores a different type of prince and princess, and how things can escalate until the world around you is unrecognizable. This is not a graphic novel I'd recommend for kids. Rating: 3 stars.

September 13, 2014

Strathmore Online Workshops

Have you heard of the Strathmore classes? They have three free classes a year, and you can watch them at your leisure. If you are interested in art, or sketching, or keeping a journal, these classes are should be right up your alley.

You can check them out here.

September 11, 2014

Cinemascope: Whale Rider

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

Released in 2002.

Plot line: A small Maori village faces a crisis when the heir to the leadership of the Ngati Konohi dies at birth and is survived only by his twin sister, Pai. Although disregarded by her grandfather and shunned by the village people, twelve-year-old Pai remains certain of her calling and trains herself in the ways and customs of her people. With remarkable grace, Pai finds the strength to challenge her family and embraces a thousand years of tradition in order to fulfill her destiny.

I saw this at my local indie theater when it first came out and loved it. I recently read the book the movie is based on, and while while there are some significant changes made for the movie, it still holds up many years later. I loved this story of a young girl fighting to find herself in a changing world, and the challenges the Maori people face holding on to their traditions in these modern times.

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

September 10, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 09.10.14

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September 9, 2014

Coursera Journal page

One of the things I love about the net is the number of free classed offered online. There are many great sources, and I especially like Coursera. If you have never checked them out, do so and prepare to be amazed at their offerings. 

I am currently enrolled in 2 classes: The Fiction of Relationship, and Modern and Contemporary American Poetry. Have you ever taken an online class? 

Earlier this year I took a class on Andy Warhol, and this page was created while listening to the lectures.

Sharpie Flip Chart makers in my large cheapo art journal. As always, click on images to view larger.

September 8, 2014

Recent Reads

121. The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change
Book blurb: Climate change is no laughing matter — but maybe it should be. The topic is so critical that everyone, from students to policy-makers to voters, needs a quick and easy guide to the basics. The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change entertains as it educates, delivering a unique and enjoyable presentation of mind-blowing facts and critical concepts.

How much more fun education would be if the material was presented in this way! I found this book to be an informative, educational, and enjoyable read. If you are unsure as to the difference between climate and weather, or are unsure what all the fuss is about global warming, or if you simply want to get that old noggin thinking about what might well be a real dystopian world, I would highly recommend you settle in with this one. Read it alone, or read it with your kids, or read it with your friends. Pour yourself a tall cold drink and just read it. Rating: 4 stars.

122. This Is Ridiculous This Is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists
All I can figure as I look at the rave reviews this book gets is that I am not a parent so I just don't get it. This is a book of lists: How to Defend Yourself Against a Toddler Attack, Reasons to Avoid the Beach, The Five Perils of International Travel, etc. I did not even crack a smile. OK, I did giggle a couple of times at Use Your Best Kindergarten Spelling, but other than that? Nada. Rating: 1 star.

123. Uzumaki, Vol. 1 (Uzumaki #1)
Japanese horror manga indeed, and a story that could have come from the mind of Stephen King. A small town in coastal Japan seems quaint and quiet, but all is not as it seems. The Uzumaki, the spiral pattern haunts people and makes them lose their mind. And as you know that pattern is everywhere in nature, even in the human body. Strange and creepy with wonderful art, this graphic novel is the first of a trilogy and I've got the next two on my nightstand. Rating: 3 stars.

124. The Key: A Novel (Sancti Trilogy #2)
This is book #2 in the Sancti Trilogy, and while I enjoyed the first one, my reaction to this was meh. I am a fan of religious/conspiracy/apocalyptic thrillers - must be those 12 or so years in Catholic schools surrounded by nuns - but this was neither thrilling nor a page turner. It picks up literally where the first book ends, and will make no sense unless you have read book #1. By the way, the audiobook is wonderfully narrated by Simon Vance, and I credit him with the fact that I stuck it out to the bitter end. That is the danger/disadvantage of having a really great narrator for a mediocre book I guess. Not a book I would recommend, and I'll be skipping the final book in the trilogy. Rating: 2 stars.

September 6, 2014

One Little Word 2014: August

And just like that another month is over.

As you might recall, my word for this year is Cultivate. I am taking a more laid back approach to my word this year. Am picking a theme for each month, and then seeing where I end up.

My focus this month was to cultivate play

engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.

Here are the quotes that inspired me this month:
Albert Einstein: Play is the highest form of research.
George Bernard Shaw: We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

And who am I to argue with genius? 

August is my birthday month, and I am one of those people who love birthdays, and think myself dang lucky that I am alive to celebrate another one. So in celebration of my birthday, I decided to focus on play. Look at the definition again: engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. When was the last time you did that?

So this month I played. For fun. Without purpose. Without the end in mind. Some of that play involved time with others, some of it was alone. Some involved toys, some not. Some play was with children, some with adults.

What I learned is that I am more at ease, and friendlier, and smile more and am more open and flexible when I play. And I have resolved to have a play date scheduled more regularly. 

These are some of the ways I cultivated play this month. How do you do it?

September 4, 2014

Cinemascope: Billy Elliot

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

Released in 2000.

Plot line:  Billy Elliot is the heartwarming story of a young boy from a working-class family who discovers a passion that will change his life forever. Eleven-year-old miner's son Billy Elliot is on his way to boxing lessons when he stumbles upon a ballet class. Billy secretly joins the class, knowing that his blue-collar family would never understand. Under the guidance of his teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Academy Award-nominee Julie Walters), Billy's raw talent takes flight. But when his father discovers his son's ambition, Billy must fight for his dreams and his destiny. 

I saw this at my local indie theater when it first came out and loved it. Watched it again recently and was pleasantly surprised to find that it held up over time. This is a story of a dreamer in a world without dreams.

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

September 3, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 09.03.14

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September 2, 2014

Journal pages

I love comics. Always have. The fact that they are called graphic novels sounds kinda high falutin, but they are comics. Love them. Recently read the Boxers & Saints books, and enjoyed learning about the Boxer Rebellion in China.

Each book recounts the story from a different perspective, something I always like. I liked the art, and decided to quickly sketch some of the illustrations in my journal.

Pen and colored pencils in my large cheapo art journal. As always, click on images to view larger.

September 1, 2014

Recent Reads

116. Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)
I've struggled with this book for the past two weeks, and cannot seem to bring myself to pick it up again, so about halfway through I am calling it quits. It has an interesting premise, and it could just be that I am in not the right mood to read it, but there you have it. As an aside, the names of people and places in this story seem like names you'd get if you let your cat walk across your keyboard - and I mean that in a good way. Rating: 1 star.

117. Fortunately, the Milk
On a recent camping trip, I decided to introduce my nephews (9 and 11) to audiobooks, and started with this one. While I have read aloud to them from an early age, this was a different and fun way for us to experience a story together. 

This short story (an hour) is a fantastical tale of the (mis)adventures a Dad has while going out to get some milk for his kids breakfast. The story was action filled, and Gaiman adds little nuggets to entertain adults as well. The boys loved it, and we had fun discussing the plot and our fave parts. Rating: 3 stars.

118. Guys Read: Will: A Story from Guys Read: Funny Business 
Another short story on audio that we listened to with my nephews recently. This story is about 30 minutes long and explores the notion of heroes. All the kids that Will knows have superpowers, but he seems to be just a normal boy. When a super villain attacks their school, can Will save the day?

In these days where most of the kid books have stories where problems are solved using magic, or super powers, or some other fantastical device, I loved the notion of a story where a kid uses his noggin. My nephews and I had an interesting discussion of what makes a hero. Rating: 3 stars.

119. Darth Vader and Son (Jeffrey Brown's Star Wars)
I am one of those people who confuse Star Wars and Star Trek, you can close your mouth now, so I am sure I missed all the insider jokes. Still, this children's comic (targeted at the 5+) is a quick and cute read. Each page is a vignette into the life that Luke might have had if he was raised by Darth Vader. Rating: 2 stars.

120. Vader's Little Princess (Jeffrey Brown's Star Wars)
I am one of those people who confuse Star Wars and Star Trek, you can close your mouth now, so I am sure I missed all the insider jokes. Still, this children's comic (targeted at the 5+) is a quick and cute read. Each page is a vignette that explores the relationship between Darth Vader and his daughter Leia, and it clear that he is more comfortable with his son. Rating: 2 stars.