February 29, 2016

Recent Reads

193. Gaijin: American Prisoner of War

Book blurb: With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked.

I do believe this is the first graphic novel I've read that portrayed the Japanese interment camps, and explored some of what Japanese Americans endured right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This is an important part of American history, and Koji's coming of age angst weaves well into the historical backdop. The art in this book is wonderful, but ultimately, I was frustrated at the lack of depth in this story - it merely skims the surface. Given that this is a graphic novel targeted at middle grade readers, I guess that makes sense, but this adult reader wanted more.

That being said, this graphic memoir/historical fiction book be a good introduction to this history for kids and adults alike. Rating: 3 stars.

194. George
"When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl."

This middle grade book gently introduces young readers to some of the challenges faced by transgender kids. It's an important book, and while it will be life changing for some kids who see themselves in these pages, I hope that it might lead to some understanding and empathy in non-transgender kids, which is equally important.

This is a sweet and sometimes heartbreaking story of a young kid who is struggling with how the world sees and assigns gender. The plot line around a play of Charlotte's Web is a lovely device. The language is simple, non-flowery, non-preachy, and not very nuanced (recall that the target audience is 8-12 years old). The audiobook is well narrated by Jaime Clayton, who has a voice that does not direct the reader into any particular gender assumptions.

This one made me smile, and nod, and cry. Yes, this is about a transgender kid, but if you have ever not measured up for any reason at all, this one will make you hug your inner five year old tightly. Rating: 4 stars.

195. Urban Sketching and Painting
I've recently discovered these pocket edition art books, and they are fun and small enough to travel with. This one has examples of how you could capture an urban scene in your sketchbook using various media, and has tips and tricks that are fun. I think I would have gotten more out of it had I actually tried some of the exercises, and I can see revisiting this one again at a later date and doing just that. Rating: 3 stars.

196. Lowriders in Space
Book blurb: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team's favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito.

I'm in search of comics that my 11 year old nephew might like, and that's what got me here. I honestly think I might be too old for this one. Lupe is an anthropomorphic fox, Elirio is a mosquito, and Falpjack is an octopus, and the three of them work in a garage and have dreams of opening up their own joint someday. Hoping to win a car competition with a large cash prize, the three amigos(as?) fix up an old junker while traveling around in space - comets, asteroids, Saturn's rings, etc. are used to detail the car.

I liked the sketchy artwork, the liberal use of Spanish, and the fact that Lupe (the girl foxy one) does not have typical gender roles (but, then she's a fox in tight clothes that show off her curves...). Anyways, just not for me. And suddenly I feel rather old. Rating: 2 stars.

197. Nature Anatomy
Can you put aside your adult self for a little while and get back in touch with your 8 to 12 year old self? Remember that fascination with the world around you? Remember being blown away by things you learned every day in Science class? Reading this book was kinda like that.

It is an illustrated guide of the natural (mostly North American) world, and the art is colorful and whimsical. If you are looking for an in depth scientific discourse look elsewhere, but if you are interested in reawakening that wonder you felt as a kid, get a copy of this one, and share it with kids, and other nature lovers in your circles.

I loved this book. Not only did it make me want to get outside with my sketch book and art supplies, but I learned things I did not know, and recalled with delight things I once did. This lovely book interweaves art and science, and reminds us about the wonders of the natural world, whether in large national parks, or small potted gardens. Rating: 5 stars.

198. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 1
Book blurb: In Edo period Japan, a strange new disease called the Red Pox has begun to prey on the country's men. Within eighty years of the first outbreak, the male population has fallen by seventy-five percent. Women have taken on all the roles traditionally granted to men, even that of the Shogun. The men, precious providers of life, are carefully protected. And the most beautiful of the men are sent to serve in the Shogun's Inner Chamber...

Holy smokes, but how have I not heard about this manga series before? And why has HBO not made this into a TV show?

I love the premise, and while the notion of a world dominated by women is not an original one, this one is uniquely set in Edo period Japan. I love the setting, the world building, the characters, and the twists and turns of the story, and am delighted to have nine more books in this series to look forward to. The exploration of reversed gender roles/norms is wonderfully done, and there are interesting nuggets of Japanese culture I picked up along that way. The women characters in this one rock, and oh, did I mention that the author is a woman? So many of my boxes get ticked with this one.

Now, this should have been a 5 star read for me, however I did not love the translation. I get that the speech patterns were formal in that period of time, but the way it is translated into English is actually distracting. Also, I did not love the art, and sometimes had a tough time distinguishing between the various pretty boys. Still, on a different day I might have well ignored these flaws and given it a higher rating.

The book is labeled for Young Adults, and comes with parental warning on the cover. I'd recommend it for mature 16+ readers. If I had to come up with a one line description, I'd say think of this one as Game of Thrones with Samurai. Rating: 4 stars.

199. Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide
This is a collection of essays about the author's time as a Botswana Safari Guide. To say these are essays is a bit of stretch. Each piece is about a page or two long, and while there are really funny anecdotes, it started to get a bit repetitive and rather too fluffy for my tastes. We started reading this one aloud this summer, and after about the first five to seven vignettes or so, lost interest in picking it back up again. So onto the DNF pile it goes. Rating: 1 star.


And that brings us to the end of all the books I read in 2015. It was a really good year. You can see my top ten reads of the year here. Please do let me know what your faves reads of the year were as well. Happy reading!

February 25, 2016

Cinemascope: The Knick (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: 
Set in downtown New York in 1900 - The Knick is a groundbreaking new scripted drama from Oscar® and Emmy®-winning director Steven Soderbergh starring Oscar® nominee Clive Owen, who also received a Golden Globe nomination for this series. The Knick centers on the Knickerbocker Hospital (dubbed The Knick), which faces a major upheaval due to poor finances and an exodus of wealthy patients. The one remaining star is Dr. Thackery (played by Clive Owen) who along with the hospital staff of surgeons, nurses and other personnel must struggle to keep both themselves and the hospital going.

I binge watched this series over a couple of days. It is so good. If you are fan of historical fiction, period pieces, or medical dramas, you'll love this one too. The issues addressed are really diverse, and I  love everything about it.

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

February 22, 2016

Recent Reads

188. The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion
Oh, but I am so conflicted about this one. It's a five star idea in two star packaging.

I love so much the basic premise of this book: follow your bliss; be you. What's not to love about the notion of the crossroads of Should and Must? Shoulds are usually externally motivated, while Musts are usually a cry from our authentic self. This book does have some useful exercises and tips, and is a quick read, so I would recommend it to anyone interested in living a life that is fulfilling. Umm, wouldn't that be everyone you ask? Well, yes, but set your expectations appropriately for the hour and a half it will take to read it is all I'm saying. Rating: 3 stars.

189. A Christmas Carol
I listened to the a full cast audio production by the Voices in the Wind Audio Theatre.

This story need no introduction or recap as everyone has either read the book or watched multiple adaptations of it. I hadn't read the book since my school years, and it was interesting to see how much of the actual story got overwritten by the various adaptations I've seen over the years. The original story is so worth going back and reading again. Classic Dickens. Bah Humbug! Rating: 4 stars.

190. Bone, Vol. 1: Out from Boneville
Book blurb: After being run out of Boneville, the three Bone cousins, Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone, are separated and lost in a vast uncharted desert. Collects issues #1-6.

This is my first foray into this highly rated graphic novel series, and I must confess that I'm at a loss as to what all the fuss is about. There are some cute illustrations, and some fun plot points, but overall this one left me cold. I've already got the next book in the series checked out from my library, though am not sure I care enough to read it. Rating: 1 star.

191. Drawing For Painters
This slim volume is full of wonderful tips and inspiration. No long winded writing, just simple examples of how to improve your drawing. This book gets the rating it does because I simply read it and did not do the exercises in the book - not a fault of the authors - and I can see going back and re-reading this one with art supplies in hand at a future date. Rating: 3 stars.

192. The Ultimate Alphabet
This is a fun book to have around when you've got a group of people gathered. It is puzzle book of sorts; a Where's Waldo for an older crowd.

What is it exactly? It is a fun alphabet book, but nothing like the ones we used as kids. In this one the author/artist illustrates each letter of the alphabet with paintings of hundreds of objects that all begin with that particular letter, and the objective is to see how close you can come to finding/naming all the objects painted. This would be a fun book for both older teens and adults, especially if there is a competitive streak in the group. Rating: 3 stars.

February 18, 2016

Cinemascope: Whiplash

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: 
A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student's potential.

This movie is difficult to watch, and I was tense almost the entire time. It is a story of passion, and music, and commitment, and drive, and the relationship between a teacher and a student. It asks if you have passion, and what you are willing to do for that passion. And where is the line between a teacher pushing a student to be the best that he can be, and abuse? Tough questions, a really good story, and the acting is simply superb.

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

February 16, 2016

One Little Word 2016

This post is a little late this year, but I've been focused on my One Little Word since the start of the year.

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

My word for 2015 was Capture, and each month I paired my word with the Capture Your 365 photo projectIt turned out to be a great word for me last year, and I learned much about myself, and I noticed so many of the little details that make my life mine. You can see the photos I captured last year on Flickr or Instagram.

My word for 2016 is STRETCH. Here are some facets that excite me:
Grow| Expand| Change form| Stretch out| Lengthen| Movement| Adapt

I wanted to take a moment to thank those of you who read along, share your journey, and inspire me. May 2016 be the best year yet.

February 15, 2016

Recent Reads

183. Friends With Boys
After years of homeschooling, Maggie is about to start High School. Oh, and her mother went walkabout, and the only people she knows in this school are her brothers, and she has to learn to navigate physical, social and emotional hurdles. And if that weren't enough, she is being haunted by a ghost.

This graphic novel is targeted at the tween/teen crowd, and can be summed up in on word: Cute. Will be recommending it to my nieces and nephews. Rating: 3 stars.

184. The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
Book blurb: Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet. THE ART OF ASKING will inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love.

Well, color me pleasantly surprised and rather stunned. I did not know much about Amanda Palmer going into this one. Sure, I'd watched and loved her TED talk, and that lead to me listening to some of her music, much of which is not to my taste, but the ones that are, are incredible. And really, who needs another celebrity memoir? Well, me it turns out.

This is breathtakingly honest, and open, and not only am I an Amanda Palmer fan, but through her writing, I even like her husband, Neil Gaiman, more. What is going on? This is a very feminist, artistic exploration of what art means to both the artist and the audience. It is an exploration of life, and love, and the difference between begging and asking. It is an exploration of vulnerability, and trusting other humans and yourself, and also about the business of art. It is an exploration of the best and the worst of what the internet can enable, and seriously makes me want to hug random strangers.

I listened to the audiobook, which is superbly (why am I still surprised?) narrated by the author, and there are songs and music interludes, which add an extra punch to the book.

So, while I started writing this review with a 4 star rating in mind, I realize that is simply not enough. And dang it, but I think I've just become another Amanda Palmer bot. How did that happen? Rating: 5 stars.

185. A World of Artist Journal Pages: 1000+ Artworks - 230 Artists - 30 Countries
This book is a collection of photos of art journal pages from journals around the world - 230 artists from 30 countries to be precise. As one would expect with a collection like this one, there is wide range of styles represented, and I certainly liked some better than others. If you are a fan of art journaling, this is a fun book to dip into when looking for some inspiration. Rating: 3 stars.

186. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152
My 11 year old nephew, Jonah, is a fan of comics, so I've been reading several middle grade ones to sample what might interest him.

Reading this graphic novel just made me happy. It is the story of mice and mousey things. There is intrigue, and murder, and betrayal, though the plot is a little weak. Think of this as a much watered down Game of Thrones for mice. The art though is sumptuous, and is really the main attraction here. My nephew started reading this one, and is liking it so far. Rating: 3 stars.

187. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
"This is the best book I've read in my whole entire life. You must read it." That's what my 13 year old nephew, Luke, said to me the other day on a book buying trip. Well, how could I not read it after such a recommendation?

Edward Tulane is a rather vain china rabbit, who is much loved and admired, as he should be, in his opinion. Events are about to turn his world upside down, and he encounters situations and people who change him in unexpected ways.

I read this short, sweet novel in one sitting on a flight recently. Sure, there are incredible coincidences, and plot points that stretch an adult's sense of what is possible, but then again this is a book written for middle grade readers. This is a great read during the Christmas season, while we are surrounded by all the conspicuous consumption, to remind us of what really matters. Rating: 4 stars.

February 8, 2016

Recent Reads

179. American Vampire, Vol. 2
Book blurb: It’s Las Vegas circa 1935, and Skinner Sweet and our gal Pearl are about to learn the hard way that the bloodsuckers in Hollywood were nothing compared to what awaits them in Sin City. This volume collects issues #6-11.

I really like how this vampire story almost reads like historical fiction. A vampire nest in Vegas? Sure explains much no? I liked this one better than the first volume, though am still not enamored with the art style. We spend time with some new characters, and I really like the way actual historical events are woven into the plot. A fun and bloody read. Rating: 3 stars.

180. Exit Wounds
Book blurb: Set in modern-day Tel Aviv, a young man, Koby Franco, receives an urgent phone call from a female soldier. Learning that his estranged father may have been a victim of a suicide bombing in Hadera, Koby reluctantly joins the soldier in searching for clues.

The blurb above is what attracted me to this graphic novel, but unfortunately it did not really work for me. I'm not a fan of the art, and while I found the setting of Israel interesting, the story itself did not pull me in. There is no real emotional depth or pacing to this story, and the characters all seemed like cardboard cutouts who moved about the scenery. My fave parts were actually ones that showcased Koby's uncle and aunt, who are members of the supporting cast. Rating: 2 stars.

181. The Marvels
Book blurb: Two seemingly unrelated stories - one in words, the other in pictures - come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle's puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.

Don't let the almost 700 page count scare you away, as you can finish this book in one or two sittings. The first more than half of the book is like a picture book, no text, just wonderfully detailed black and white drawings. The story unfolds, ebbs and flows, and slowly, deliciously, a story forms in your head. The next section/story is all text, and while I liked it, I did not love it as much, though it is a really fast read, and important puzzle pieces fall into place. In the final section, we are back to the black and white drawings, and seriously people, if you find yourself not moved, you are probably one of those living dead.

These books are targeted at a tween/teen audience, and while this is the first book I've read by the author, it will not be the last. Rating: 4 stars.

182. Trillium
This graphic novel has some of everything: science fiction, romance, first contact, dystopia, and mythology. Our main characters are Nika Temsith, a botanist in the year 3797, and William Pike, an explorer in the year 1921. Oh, then there is the lost Lost Temple of the Incas. And a blue Goddess. Their paths will cross and they will affect each other in unimaginable ways. OK, I just realized that I cannot explain this one adequately, so you'll just have to read it.

One of the really wonderful things about the formatting of this graphic novel, is that sometimes you read the normal way, sometimes you have to read backwards, and other times you have to hold the book upside down. The story is a little on the weak side, and the Lemire draws his characters so they all look the same to me - thank goodness for differently colored hair, and clothing! Still, there is a wonderful freshness and poignancy to this one, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Rating: 4 stars.

February 4, 2016

Cinemascope: He Named Me Malala

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: After the Taliban tries to kill her for speaking out on behalf of girls' education, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai emerges as a leading advocate for children's rights and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

This documentary about Malala is done in an interesting way - it uses interviews, photos, and animated art to tell her story. As a documentary, it has flaws for sure, but it is hard not to come away inspired and heartened after watching this one. Girl power indeed. 

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

February 3, 2016

Why people believe they can’t draw - and how to prove they can | Graham Shaw (Video)

This just makes me happy. Pick up some paper and a pen and watch this entertaining TED talk.

Why is it that so many people think they can’t draw? Where did we learn to believe that? Graham Shaw will shatter this illusion – quite literally - in a very practical way. He’ll demonstrate how the simple act of drawing has the power to make a positive difference in the world.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

February 1, 2016

Recent Reads

175. The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss
The author inherits a "small and exquisite collection of netsuke. Entranced by their beauty and mystery, he determined to trace the story of his family through the story of the collection."

I decided to listen to the audiobook, which is well narrated by Michael Maloney, on a recent road trip. This book is part memoir, part biography, part history, part sociology, part travel writing, and part art history, and is nothing like I expected it to be.

As the book unfolds, we learn about the netsukes, about the wealthy Ephrussis family, about how members of this family intersect with the artists and royals of their time in Paris and Vienna. Then the Anschluss and World War 2 changes the family's fortunes and futures in ways that were incomprehensible and heartbreaking. And through all these times, we follow the netsukes as they move from one location to another, to another.

This should have been a 5 star read for me, but the entire middle of this book was rather dry and boring, I simply did not care enough about the family and their links to various famous people. It started out well, and I'm so glad I did not bail in the middle, because the sections of the book starting with WW2 and the final several hours of the book are brilliant.

I found parts of this book fascinating, and I really liked the exploration of the legacy of objects passed down through the family. Still, this will not be for everyone, and is not one I'd recommend. Rating: 3 stars.

176. The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2)
The audiobook is well narrated by Robert Glenister, but about 37% of the way through I find myself bored and uninterested in where this story is going. So bailing before I waste any more time on this one. Not for me. Rating: 1 star.

177. American Vampire, Vol. 1
This graphic novel volume collects issues #1-5.

I love vampire stories. Correction, I love gritty, Anne-Rice-style vampire stories. None of these ones that glitter in sunlight for me, thank you very much, so was delighted to discover this series.

The story unfolds via multiple story lines, the American Wild West, and Los Angeles in the 1920s, and recounts the origin story of the American vampire.

This should have been fantastic, but the story and art is not quite fully developed enough for my tastes. Still, a fun, if bloody (doesn't that go without saying?) story, and I've already got the next one in the series started. Rating: 3 stars.

178. Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout
This book is an illustrated biography of Pierre and Marie Curie, and be forewarned that the cover art glows in , the dark. It took me several moments to realize that I was not experiencing a paranormal event one dark night.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Marie Currie is someone I have been fascinated with since I was a kid, and it was fun to read about her again, and learn quite a few new interesting nuggets in the process. The art in this book is wonderfully evocative - ghostly and luminous, but towards the latter half of the book, there was almost too much text, and muddling of the main story line. Still, I liked it, and will certainly be reading other books by this author. Rating: 3 stars.