December 31, 2015

Cinemascope: Home For The Holidays

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

Released in 1995.

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

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

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

December 28, 2015

Recent Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 25, 2015

December 21, 2015

Recent Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 19, 2015

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

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

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

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

December 14, 2015

Recent Reads

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

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

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

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

147. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 3: Animal Armies

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

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

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

148. The God of Carnage

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

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

149. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 4: Endangered Species

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

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

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

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

December 12, 2015

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

This just makes me happy.

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

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

December 10, 2015

Cinemascope: Indian Summers

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

Released in 2015.

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

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

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

December 7, 2015

Recent Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 5, 2015

Ann Morgan: My year reading a book from every country in the world (Video)

This TED talk is right up my alley.

Ann Morgan considered herself well read — until she discovered the "massive blindspot" on her bookshelf. Amid a multitude of English and American authors, there were very few books from beyond the English-speaking world. So she set an ambitious goal: to read one book from every country in the world over the course of a year. Now she's urging other Anglophiles to read translated works so that publishers will work harder to bring foreign literary gems back to their shores.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

December 3, 2015

Cinemascope: American Sniper

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: U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) takes his sole mission -- protect his comrades -- to heart and becomes one of the most lethal snipers in American history. His pinpoint accuracy not only saves countless lives but also makes him a prime target of insurgents. Despite grave danger and his struggle to be a good husband and father to his family back in the States, Kyle serves four tours of duty in Iraq. However, when he finally returns home, he finds that he cannot leave the war behind.

When I heard that Clint Eastwood was the director, this movie immediately went on my radar. I've waited several weeks after watching it to see how I felt after all my emotions has dampened down, and I still think this is a movie worth watching. This is an interesting and nuanced exploration of war from one sniper's point of view, and as a country that has engaged in several wars in the past decade or so, I think it is important to look at the themes this movie explores squarely in the eye. And by the way, Bradley Cooper is really great in this one.

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

December 2, 2015

Journal Pages

It's been a while since I've posted any journal pages, and that's because I've been focused on other projects. The start of a new month is the perfect time to recommit, so have decided to get back on the art bandwagon again. My goal is to create something everyday, and I'm interested to see where this takes me.

In the meanwhile here are some pages from earlier this summer.

It's kinda funny how adult coloring books are all the rage these days. Some of us never stopped coloring. The page above was fun and meditative to create. Pen and watercolors.

I tried out a couple of episodes of this show, and honestly the thing I liked best was the face of the main actor. Don't you find that faces that are interesting to draw are often not what Hollywood would classify as beautiful? Watersoluble pen.

If you have not heard of Steve Harpster, go check out his YouTube Channel. He has drawings that work well as warm up sketches and are fun to do with kids as well.

I'm still using the journal and supplies that I started out the summer with, and am determined to complete this sketchbook by the end of the year. You can see a video of my current kit here.

December 1, 2015

Afterglow: Lightsuit Segment (Video)

Now for your moment of zen.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

November 30, 2015

Recent Reads

138. By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review
Edit: A friend asked me why not a higher rating. My response: I found myself skimming through many of the interviews as I was not particularly interested in the question asked and answered, and I thought some of the questions themselves rather silly. I did really love the interviews with some of my fave authors, but like all anthologies, there were many interviews that did not hit the mark for me.
The New York Times Book Review has a weekly By the Book feature in which writers are asked about the books and authors they love. This book collects sixty five of these interviews.

I've dipped into this book over the course of a couple of weeks and enjoyed it. It's like meeting up with a reader friend over drinks and talking about books, so if that's your thing too, you'll enjoy this one as well. An unexpected pleasure was the the wonderful author sketches by Jillian Tamaki.

I've found loads of book recommendations to add to my TBR list, and I wish the author had added an appendix with a summary of authors and their recommended books; you know that only book lovers are going to pick this up, and you know this is going to fatten up our TBRs, so why not make it easier on us? Rating: 3 stars.

139. An Absent Mind
Book blurb: The ticking time bomb is Saul Reimer's sanity. His Alzheimer's is going to be the catalyst that will either bring his family together or tear it apart. Although An Absent Mind depicts Saul's arduous struggle with Alzheimer's, it is equally a story about his relationship with his loved ones and their shared journey.

This novella is less than 200 pages, and is a really quick read, but knowing the subject matter, you know that there is no happily-ever-after at the end. I'm conflicted about how to rate this one, so will try to work it out in this review.

Reading this story was almost like reading a play with stage scenery and actors. The story is told from multiple points of view: Saul, his family, and a doctor. I quite liked that we get Saul's point of view as the disease progresses, and the fact that we also hear about key events from his wife and kids, means that the reader gets a more complete sense of the scene. 

The story cycles through the various narrators at a pretty fast clip, and each section is really short, sometimes only a paragraph or a single sentence in length. The writing is very straightforward with no flourishes of any kind, and my largest complaint is that the various voices sound exactly the same. If the sections had not been labeled I would have been hard pressed to tell them apart.

The author's father also had Alzheimer's, and I'm not sure how much of this novel is based on his personal experience, but it is clear that he wanted to help others understand more about the destruction left in the wake of this disease. I think he did a good job with that, but I felt at somewhat of an emotional remove as the story unfolded, and I think a large part of that was due to the writing itself.

If you have never read a book on this disease, this would be a good introduction, and if you have not yet read it, I would highly recommend Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Rating: 3 stars.

140. The Complete Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist (Hothead Paisan #1-2)
The Complete Collection combines Hothead Paisan and Revenge of Hothead Paisan with new strips in a single volume for the first time.

Holy smokes, but how have I not read this before?

Are you old enough to remember zines? Ah, the good old days of subversive zines. That I missed reading this when I was younger is a pity. If you are looking for fine art and colored illustrations look elsewhere. If you are a person who still thinks that girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice, what rock have you been living under?

This feminist, queer positive graphic novel, is comprised of black and white comic strips, with sketchy art, and a no-holds-barred-take-no-prisoners attitude, and is as fab and relevant today as when it was first published. As for Chicken, who does not love a cat who does yoga?

I have thoroughly enjoyed my travels to this fantasy world where sexists and homophones get what's coming to them. Why was this not made into a movie again? Rating: 5 stars.

141. Saga, Volume 5
Volume 5 collects issues #25-30. 

The excitement I feel when a new volume of Saga drops into my hands is one the fans of this series totally understand. All other books cease to exist, and I'm lost in this world for a while. 

In this installment, multiple stories collide, alliances are forged and broken, and the action is fast and furious. Loved many of the observations about parenting in this one. I'm already anticipating that day in the future when I'll sit down with the entire completed series and wallow in re-reading this story straight through. 

Now when is the next one due out again?  Rating: 4 stars.

November 23, 2015

Recent Reads

134. Lost at Sea
I believe I read someplace that this is the author's first foray into graphic novels, and it shows. His more recent stuff is better. 

Teenage angst on a road trip. The thing is that for many people being a teenager is a very angst ridden time of their lives, but this story does not do a good job of exploring what is going on with our protagonist. There are some interesting threads, but nothing really comes of any of them. It felt murky and unfinished, and I'm not a fan of the manga style illustrations for this story. 

This book is targeted for a teen audience, and maybe they'll get more out of it that I did. Not my cup of tea. Rating: 2 stars.

135. Chocky
Book blurb: Matthew's parents are worried. At eleven, he's much too old to have an imaginary friend, yet they find him talking to and arguing with a presence that even he admits is not physically there. This presence - Chocky - causes Matthew to ask difficult questions and say startling things.

I'll stop the blurb there, as I really think the less you know about this story and the genre it's in, the better your reading experience will be.

John Wyndham is a British author whose work I've been meaning to read for ages, as his works are considered classics. This one was first published in 1968, and holds up really well today. 

I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Daniel Weyman. This delightful and charming novella takes a little over four hours to listen to, and I'd recommend it for both teen and adult readers. Rating: 4 stars.

136. Sandcastle
This is an interesting graphic novel to read as the weather turns crisper in these northern climes. You know that feeling when you're walking outside in the fall and your breath catches as you glimpse something out the corner of your eye, and then realize it is only falling leaves? 

This story is like that, only there is no relief to be had. It is hard to talk about this book without giving away the fun of discovering what it is about, so all I'll say is that it'll make you think about beach days very differently after you read this one. The black and white sketchy art wonderfully evokes the right mood for the story.

If you decide to read this, do not read the book blurbs, just pick it up and read it. Rating: 4 stars.

137. Disgraced: A Play
Book blurb: Everyone has been told that politics and religion are two subjects that should be off-limits at social gatherings. But watching these characters rip into these forbidden topics, there's no arguing that they make for ear-tickling good theater.

I've always loved plays, and have fond memories of both watching regular productions as a kid, and also acting in several, and to this day The Sound of Music, and Fiddler on the Roof hold a special place in my heart.

There is something magical created by the words, the actors, the setting, and the audience when one watches a play. I don't however, as a general rule, read plays. There is so much lost when all you have are the words on a page, and I quite appreciated that in the forward the author talks about what is gained and lost when you see a production, as opposed to read the words.

This won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama, and is really good. The characters and dialog draw out some of the experiences of being a Muslim in a post 9/11 America, and it is a frank exploration on race, religion, being an immigrant and a person of color, art, and relationships.

Life and love are complicated things, and this play sheds some light on the things we look at, but often do not see. I look forward to seeing the play in Boston next year. Rating: 4 stars.

November 19, 2015

Cinemascope: Madam Secretary (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 2014.

Plot line: 
In the first season of the gripping political thriller Madam Secretary, Dr. Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni) navigates the maze of politics to protect America and affect global issues. When the current Secretary of State is killed in a mysterious airplane accident, the White House turns to Elizabeth to take over the job. As a former CIA analyst, she understands the risks of the world. However, she's far less prepared for the treachery of politics.

This show has politics, drama, conspiracy, and smart women - all key ingredients to shows that I find binge watch worthy. And that is just what I have done with this season. My reading life suffered greatly once I stumbled upon it.

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

November 16, 2015

Recent Reads

130. The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances
I gather that the Oatmeal has a Web presence, but he is not someone I knew anything about before picking up this book.

This graphic novel elaborates on the title of the book, and is a fun quick read. If you are looking for a serious running book look elsewhere, but if you think running might be for you, this book has some motivational tips with a fun digression on Japanese giant hornets. Rating: 3 stars.

131. El Deafo
The author lost her hearing when she was young, and this graphic novel memoir is about how she dealt with that loss, and how she negotiated starting a new school with a huge hearing aid strapped to her chest.

This book is targeted at the 8-12 year old reader, and gently explores themes of friendship, being different, and learning to appreciate who you are. The art is cute and colorful, and I liked the stylistic use of large bunny ears to underscore the importance of hearing, or lack there, of to this story.

This is a fun and quick read of this period of the author's younger years, and would be good book for the young readers in your life. Rating: 3 stars.

132. Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops
This book could best be described as "a miscellany of hilarious and peculiar bookshop moments."

You know how when you are sitting in a cafe sipping your drink and pretending to read a magazine, but what you're really doing is eavesdropping on conversations around you? Oh, you don't do that? Sure. Right. Whatever. Anyways, this book is like that. A collections of snippets of conversations in a book shop, between a customer and a book seller, or between customers. 

Some snippets made me laugh out loud, some made me smile, some had me shaking my head, and a couple I'm not sure I really understood. This book will take you about forty minutes to read, and I'd suggest it as ideal reading material for your next dental appointment or while waiting for a flu shot. Rating: 3 stars.

133. The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire #1)
"It is seriously so good! You have to read it before you die!" So declared my 10 year old nephew, Jonah. How can one resist such a recommendation? 

This is the first book (of eight) in the Wings of Fire series, and it's a story about dragons. There is a dragon war, lots of bad things happening, but there are these five young dragonets who are destined to save the day. Or are they?

This book starts with a map of the land, which is of course shaped like a dragon. Then there is a list of the types of dragons, their habitats and such, complete with drawings. And it all starts out with a prophecy. What's not to like?

There is nothing special about the writing, though the plot is quite fast paced with lots of intrigue and murder, and I can see why my nephew loves this series. The story explores themes of family, loyalty, friendship, courage, and teamwork, and is a rollicking fun ride.

I enjoyed this well enough, and look forward to discussing it with Jonah, but do not plan on continuing with the series. Though, don't take my word for it - many adults seems to love this series as much as my nephew. Rating: 3 stars.

November 12, 2015

Cinemascope: Jane The Virgin (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 2014.

Plot line: 
The daughter of a teen mother, Jane Villanueva grew up determined not to repeat her mom's mistakes. At 23 her life is on track; Jane is studying to be a teacher and engaged to a handsome detective who supports her decision to remain a virgin until marriage. Then a routine clinic visit flips her life upside down. Inseminated by a specimen meant for a patient in the next room, now-pregnant Jane is in a situation made only more-insane when she learns that the sperm donor is her boss, Rafael. As her meticulously planned life gets more like the telenovelas she loves, she faces a lot of complicated decisions about where to go from here.

The words "satirical romantic comedy-drama television series" usually makes me pass on a show. What we find funny can really vary from person to person, so I watched the first couple of episodes without any expectations that I would like this show, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I do. Yes it is over the top in some ways, in a telenovela way to be exact, but it is fun, and surprisingly good. I especially love all the women in this show, and the Villanueva women in particular have won my heart.

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

November 11, 2015

Jenni Chang and Lisa Dazols: This is what LGBT life is like around the world (Video)

As a gay couple in San Francisco, Jenni Chang and Lisa Dazols had a relatively easy time living the way they wanted. But outside the bubble of the Bay Area, what was life like for people still lacking basic rights? They set off on a world tour in search of "Supergays," LGBT people who were doing something extraordinary in the world. In 15 countries across Africa, Asia and South America — from India, recently home to the world's first openly gay prince, to Argentina, the first country in Latin America to grant marriage equality — they found the inspiring stories and the courageous, resilient and proud Supergays they had been looking for.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

November 9, 2015

Recent Reads

127. Here
Book blurb: Built in six pages of interlocking panels, dated by year, it collapsed time and space to tell the story of the corner of a room - and its inhabitants - between the years 500,957,406,073 BC and 2033 AD.

I love books that experiment with a different way to tell a story. If you have yet to read Building Stories by Chris Ware, stop reading this review and start there. So very cool. This one is nothing like Ware's book, but is equally brilliant in weaving a story.

What's this graphic novel about? Well, it is the story of a corner of a room. And if you think that sounds boring, think again. Here's what I mean. Look up right now and gaze at a corner of the room you are in. If you are outdoors, shut your eyes and imagine a corner of your bedroom. Are you there? OK. Now imagine that you have the ability to wind time back and forth - like a time machine - only you do not move from your current position. You can move time back and forth a few years, decades, or even millennia, but you remain in the exact same location on the planet. What do you think you'd see in that corner over that time scale? Right??!!

I have never read a book like this, and it does something that only graphic novels can do so well. Check it out and let me know what you think. Rating: 4 stars.

128. Fifteen Dogs
Book blurb:
— I wonder, said Hermes, what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.
— I'll wager a year's servitude, answered Apollo, that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence.

This story starts with two gods walking into a Toronto bar. How could I resist?

What makes a human human? This question has niggled homo sapiens since we first had that thought. This novel explores whether other animals (dogs in this case) would handle themselves better if granted human consciousness and language. 

This story is both humorous and dark, thoughtful and meditative, and explores deeply philosophical questions. I read it in two sittings, and if you are a fan of Animal Farm, I'd highly recommend this one, though this one has less politics and more poetry. A warning to dog lovers out there - remember what these fifteen dogs have been granted, and gird yourself for what you know is coming. 

An interesting coincidence is that I started reading this book while listening to The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, and it works wonderfully as a companion piece. Rating: 4 stars.

129. The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Book blurb: In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thailand–Burma Death Railway in 1943, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier. His life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from pitiless beatings—until he receives a letter that will change him forever.

It is not a surprise to me that this book won the Man Booker prize in 2014. Finest fiction indeed. 

“A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul. Such books were for him rare and, as he aged, rarer." 

I cannot think of the last book that made me examine my own soul as much as this one. It is not an easy read by any measure, but so, so worth it.

A couple of things to keep in mind if you decide to read it:

1. The first 20 to 30 pages setup the entire book, and in my opinion the author gives us hints as to how to read the story.

2. Most stories have a beginning and an end, and the story tends to move in a linear manner from one to the other. There is nothing linear about this story. It is like a nautilus - the story folds in on itself again and again.

3. There are several points and counterpoints in this story; lots of duality, and one of the keys to fully immersing yourself in this story is to find those points. For example: Doorigo and Nakamura, Keith and Ella, etc.

4. We often talk about the notion of walking in someone else's shoes, but can we really? The author is incredibly skillful in his ability to create multiple first person narratives, and we do get the chance to walk in those proverbial shoes. 

5. War is hell, we all know this yes? And yet, we are asked to spend time in this partuclar hell. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

This book explores so many themes: love and loss, fidelity and betrayal, honor and duty, morality and war, family and belonging. The thing about most war stories, is that they are written from a particular point of view; we often get only one version of the story. This one switches sides frequently, and I have never read a book that examines something from such various points of view without an axe to grind. 

A note on the audiobook production. This book is wonderfully narrated by David Atlas. The thing about the audio is that I could not skim, or close my eyes during the hard parts. I heard every single word, and that made me feel like I was embedded in the scene.

Yes, the writing is lyrical and beautiful, but the most important thing to me is that I am not the same person I was before I read this book.  Rating: 5 stars.

November 7, 2015

THE LAB: DECOY - A portrait session with a twist (Video)

Interesting food for thought.

A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what's in front of it. To prove this we invited six photographers to a portrait session with a twist. ‘Decoy’ is one of six experiments from The Lab, designed to shift creative thinking behind the lens.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

November 5, 2015

Cinemascope: Penny Dreadful (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 2014.

Plot line: Explorer Sir Malcolm Murray, American gunslinger Ethan Chandler and medium Vanessa Ives unite to combat supernatural threats in Victorian London.

I like to watch something creepy around Halloween, and this fit the bill perfectly. Showtime has created a fun show including some of literature's most terrifying characters, including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and iconic figures from the novel Dracula are lurking in the darkest corners of Victorian London. Penny Dreadful is a frightening psychological thriller that weaves together these classic horror origin stories into a new adult drama.

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

November 2, 2015

Recent Reads

123. The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave #1)
How could I not pick up a book touted as a cross between The Passage and Ender's Game? And it starts with this quote by Stephen Hawking: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans.” Talk about right in my wheel house!

I picked it up to read over Labor Day weekend, and was done in a couple of sittings. The thing to note is that this is a book targeted at a Young Adult audience, so the pacing is fast, the action kinda non-stop, and it is really light on dialogue and character development. I quite liked the premise and the slow reveal of what constitutes the 5th Wave, but there is just not enough meat on the bones for my taste - not enough of the Sci in Sci-fi, the characters are not well fleshed out, and talk about unbelievable coincidences! But, based on Goodreads reviews, I am clearly in the minority on this one.

While I did not love it, it was a quick, if mindless, read - and that can be exactly the right book at the right time. As for me, I'd be curious to see what my nieces and nephews think of it, but I'll be passing on the rest of this trilogy. Rating: 2 stars.

124. Manifest Destiny, Vol. 2: Amphibia & Insecta
Book blurb: Lewis, Clark and the surviving members of their expedition continue westward across America, only to learn there is nowhere to run on a river. Collects Manifest Destiny Issues #7-12.

This continues to be a fun graphic novel series about the alternative history of the Lewis and Clark expedition. There are more monstrous creatures, and dangers abound both on land and on water. We know that they'll make it through, but finding out how is half the fun. The art continues to be wonderful, and the writing is better than the first volume, so that makes me happy. I want to get my hands on the alternate journal that was kept during this expedition. Wonder if it can be found in Monticello ... there are some artifacts from the trip I saw there on a visit a couple of years ago. Need to make friends with a docent I guess. Rating: 3 stars.

125. Air, Volume 2: Flying Machine
Book blurb: In this second volume, Blythe's mysterious rescuer reveals the truth behind one of the most shocking disappearances in aviation history - a secret tied to the origin of hyperprax flight. As the race to find the device begins, Blythe must master her skills as a hyperpract. 

I've always wondered what happened to Amelia Earhart. Now I know. This four book graphic novel series is a fun romp into different dimensions, time frames, and even bodies; the part when our heroine ends up in the young body of the man she loves - creepy and cool at the same time. I've got the next book queued up. Rating: 3 stars.

126. Vincent
Video review:
Rating: 3 stars.

October 29, 2015

Cinemascope: Ancient Roads from Christ to Constantine

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: Join author and distinguished history professor Jonathan Phillips of Royal Holloway, University of London, as he takes viewers on a spectacular and dramatic twelve thousand mile journey of a lifetime, traveling the ancient roads to the very places where Christianity began. Ancient Roads from Christ to Constantine is a captivating adventure through four centuries and seven countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

This six hour PBS series is an informative and fascinating journey into the early history of Christianity. It does not matter where you are religious or not, this is the way history should be taught. Oh, the dots I connected with this one.

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

October 26, 2015

Recent Reads

119. The Green Road
Book blurb: Spanning thirty years and three continents, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children.

This is the fourth book I've attempted to read from the 2015 Man Booker Longlist, and I'm happy to report that while I did not love it, I did make it all the way to the end. 

This family story is narrated from the point of view of the various members, and as with most families, I found certain characters more interesting than others. And like most families, some members get way more air time than others. 

I've got a couple of bones to pick with the style of writing in this book. For one, I'm not a fan of third person narratives as, unless superbly done, they create a distance from the characters for me. Also there is something about the flow of the writing that kept pulling me out of the story. At no time did I feel like I was immersed in the story - I was constantly aware of the fact that I was reading a book. On the plus side, there are scenes, conversations, and settings that the author captures brilliantly, and those gems are really what kept me reading on. 

This is the second book I've read by the author, and like the previous one, I have to confess that this is not a story that I connected with, and it will not stay with me. But those gems, oh so wonderfully sparkly. I'd give this one 2.5 stars, and will round up for those gems. Rating: 3 stars.

120. The Three Incestuous Sisters
Think of this book as a picture book for adults. 

Once upon a time there were three sisters: one beautiful, one smart, and one talented. And as with all fairy tales, they live happily together until a boy arrives. Then all hell breaks loose, and there is a whirlwind of love, jealousy, sabotage, revenge, and despair. Will women never learn? Sigh.

The text is very simple, but the art is quite wonderful and evocative. You could spend quite a long time simply looking at the art in this book and making up stories of your own. I liked this strangely disturbing story. Rating: 3 stars.

121. On Immunity
I listened to the audiobook, which was well narrated by Tamara Marston.

This is not the book I expected to read. I expected a historical look at vaccines, past, present, and future, and that is not what I got. It is a collection of essays chock-full of the bricolage the author found during her clearly extensive research on the subject. While some of the bricolage was indeed interesting, I wish an editor had taken out some of the tangents, and created more of a logical structure to this one. It could be that these tangents would be applicable to parents, but since I am not one I can only assume that is the case.

The book starts out in the manner I expected, and then veered into what one might title " A Mother's Search for Peace of Mind." Still I learned things and connected several dots, so this was certainly worth a read as it is a good introduction to the topic. I'll be looking for other books that cover the history I was in search of, so if you know of a good one please do let me know. Rating: 3 stars.

122. The Wicked + The Divine, Vol.2: Fandemonium
This volume collects issues #6-11.

The art in this second volume continues to be fab, but the story line, while a bit better than the previous volume, is still not sufficiently developed. Maybe twelve gods is simply too much to deal with? This installment tries to solve the murder mystery created in the first one, and has some interesting twists. All I can say is be careful what you wish for, and everyone is not what they seem.
C'mon writers of this series, take it up a notch and execute on this vision. Rating: 3 stars. 

October 23, 2015

CY 365 Update

If you are regular reader of this blog, you might be wondering if I've quit on the CY 365 project. Absotutely not. I'm no quitter. I still post daily to my Instagram account, but have decided to not re-post those entries here are well. So, if you want to follow along, you can see what I'm up to here.

October 22, 2015

Cinemascope: Poldark (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 2015.

Plot line: It's 1783, and Ross Poldark has returned home from the American Revolutionary War to find England in the grip of recession and his beloved Cornwall on its knees. His father is dead, his family's land and copper mines are in ruins, and his childhood sweetheart is about to marry his first cousin. Feeling betrayed by everything he loves, Ross must rebuild his life, embarking on a risky business venture, facing new adversaries, and finding love where he least expects it. Based on the novels by Winston Graham and set against the dramatic Cornish coastline, this striking saga stars Aidan Turner (The Hobbit) as Ross Poldark, and Eleanor Tomlinson (Death Comes to Pemberley) as the fiery Demelza

If you a fan of period pieces, and sagas set in England (I'm talking to you Downton Abby fans), try this BBC series. There are good guys, wonderfully bad guys, and some merely stupid guys you really want to kick in the shins.

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

October 19, 2015

Recent Reads

116. Devil's Peak (Benny Griessel #1)
Book blurb: A young woman makes a terrible confession to a priest. An honorable man takes his own revenge for an unspeakable tragedy. An aging inspector tries to get himself sober while taking on the most difficult case of his career. From this beginning, Deon Meyer weaves a story of astonishing complexity and suspense, as Inspector Benny Griessel faces off against a dangerous vigilante who has everything on his side, including public sympathy. 

This is the first of five books in the Benny Griessel series, and the second book I've read by the author. I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Simon Vance. 

The story is set in South Africa, and unfolds via three narrators: Christine the prostitute, Bennie Griessel the cop, and Tobela Mpayipheli the man who decides to set right some of the wrongs of this world. And you just know that their worlds will collide one day. The writing is really good, the sense of place wonderful, and the characters are fully fleshed out. I quite liked some of the themes this story explores: What does justice look like? Are there some crimes that can be forgiven, encouraged even? People have an idea of who they will be, so how do they lose their way?

I really enjoyed the author's skill at spinning an interesting yarn, and I've already picked up the rest of the series. Rating: 4 stars.

117. The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present
Book blurb: A highly provocative, mindbending, beautifully designed, and visionary look at the landscape of our rapidly evolving digital era.

Okay, let me try to talk about this one: It is a little book with text and graphics. It can be read in one sitting, but I decided to do it in two. Each double page spread or two could be used to spark very interesting dinner conversations. You could start reading this book at any page, but I'd suggest for the first read through that you read it front to back. There are things in this one that gave me pause, and really made me think. I will be reading this one again.

Honestly people, I not sure how to even describe this book, but I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy pronto.  Rating: 4 stars.

118. The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes #5)
Ah, Sherlock Holmes. I have yet to read the series; in fact this is only the second book in the series I've read. Not sure why. I enjoy his stories immensely - but there you go, I think I just hit the nail on the head - they are indeed stories. Not a huge fan of short stories. But every now and then I find myself in the mood to indulge, and when this story won the 2015 Audies for Audio Drama, that decided it.

I'm sure you all know the story, so I won't summarize it. This full cast production by the L.A. Theatre Works is wonderful. I had a delightful time listening to this story read by Geoffrey Arend, Wilson Bethel, Seamus Dever, Sarah Drew, Henri Lubatti, James Marsters, Christopher Neame, Moira Quirk, and Darren Richardson. 

I have no doubt that there will be more Holmes in my future, and if you have yet to read this one, or even if you have, give yourself the gift of a couple of fun hours listening to this production. Rating: 4 stars.

October 15, 2015

Cinemascope: Death Comes to Pemberley

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: Masterpiece Mystery!: Death Comes to Pemberley It is the eve of the Darcys' annual ball at their magnificent Pemberley estate. Darcy and Elizabeth, now six years married, are relaxing with their guests after supper when the festivities are brought to an abrupt halt. A scream calls them to the window and a hysterical Lydia Wickham tumbles out of a carriage shrieking, "Murder!" What follows is the somber discovery of a dead man in Pemberley woods, a brother accused of murder, and the beginning of a nightmare that will threaten to engulf Pemberley and all the Darcys hold dear. Adapted from P.D. James clever whodunit, this delicious homage to Jane Austen s beloved Pride and Prejudice stars Anna Maxwell Martin (Bleak House), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Matthew Goode (The Good Wife), and Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who). Elizabeth and Darcy never knew marriage would be like this! 

I have yet to read the book this is based on, but have read and loved Pride and Prejudice. If you loved P&P as well, you'll probably enjoying spending a bit more time with the old gang. So fun.

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

October 12, 2015

Recent Reads

112. Wytches, Vol. 1
Book Blurb: When the Rooks family moves to the remote town of Litchfield, NH to escape a haunting trauma, they're hopeful about starting over. But something evil is waiting for them in the woods just beyond town. Watching from the trees. Ancient...and hungry. Collects Wytches #1-6.

I really liked the illustration style used in this horror graphic novel - there is something about paint spatters in the back ground that add to the effect of layers. And this story is about layers - layers of lies, of secrets, of horror, of love. You know those dreams where you know there is something horrible, but you can only catch glimpses of it? The wytches are depicted in a similar manner - your eyes try to see clearly what is on the page, but your mind refuses to co-operate. And the dad in this story - I love the dad. 

"Pledged is pledged." I'm very interested to see where this story goes. Rating: 4 stars.

113. The Girl with All the Gifts
This genre book is best read with as little foreknowledge as possible. Unfortunately, I already knew a key piece of the story's reveal, so it did not have that extra punch for me.

I loved the premise of this story, and it starts out wonderfully. The reader only knows things as 10 year old Melanie reveals them, and unlike her we know that things are not normal. But after that great start, the story is unfocused, plodding, and frankly boring. The characters are not well developed, the dialog is stilted, and the pacing of the story is jerky at best. After I finished the novel, I read that the author is best known for his graphic novel work, and things suddenly fell in to place. At no time while reading this novel did I drop into the story - it was almost like I was reading the text of a graphic novel and was missing the illustrations that completed the picture. 

I loved the twist of seeing this genre story told through Melanie's point of view, but there was just not enough in this one for my tastes. I would love to see a graphic novel adaptation of this book. Rating: 2 stars.

114. The Leviathan Effect
Don't you just hate when you settle in with a pot of tea and a new book and the book lets you down? I was in the mood for a thriller, a fast paced story that would keep me turning the pages, but this was not it. It should have been. It's got a great premise, but I simply do not understand all the rave reviews. Color me not thrilled. I was bored and bailed on page 42. Rating: 1 star.

115. The Wake
This graphic novel is like none I have read before. It is not an easy read, but so worth the effort.

There are two story lines, separated by two hundred years or so. I am not sure what genre this belongs in, there are so many covered, but maybe the overarching genre is a dystopian one. The art is strangely compelling, and fits wonderfully with this fairytale/monster story. I loved that the protagonists of both story lines were women - Dr. Lee Archer and Leeward, and the myths/folklore/ancient stories interspersed in the story delighted me. 

The story reaches for the stars, and while it might not get there completely, it comes so, so close. Rating: 4 stars.