March 31, 2016

Cinemascope: Before Sunset

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

Released in 2004.

Plot line: A sequel to "Before Sunrise," this film starts nine years later as Jesse (Ethan Hawke) travels across Europe giving readings from a book he wrote about the night he spent in Vienna with Celine (Julie Delpy). After his reading in Paris, Celine finds him, and they spend part of the day together before Jesse has to again leave for a flight.

The movie blurbs give away important plot points, so do not read them. This is as lovely to watch as the first time I saw it, and I was thoroughly delighted by the range of conversational topics the two actors cover. As I said last week, these movies are an ode to magic of conversation.

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

March 29, 2016

Journal page (before and after)

The thing about always having a sketchbook on hand, is that when inspiration strikes you've got a piece of paper handy. I was at my local Barnes and Noble the other day, and while looking through a magazine, I saw an image that caught my eye. I whipped out my small DIY traveler's notebook and started to sketch this girl. The photo below was taken right before I left the store, and you can see all the supplies I had on hand - my journal and a pen.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The photo above shows how much I got done while at the store. What you see below is how I completed the page at home later that day.

(Click on image to enlarge)

This page did not take hours to create, and I did it in two sessions. Sometimes we do not have the time or energy to do complicated art, but with a pen and paper in hand it took me about 5-7 minutes to capture the essence of something that caught my eye. Later, it took another 10 minutes to finish up the sketch and add some watercolor. And that's all there is to it. It looks nothing like the image that inspired me, but that was not my goal. All I wanted to do was capture a moment of inspiration. Done and done.

March 28, 2016

Recent Reads

16. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Volume 4
Dynasties move forward with different figure heads, and usually we die before we have to contend with more than a couple of rulers. That is not the case with this series. You know how you get attached to particular characters in a story, and then they get old, or die, and the world continues to turn while you are still gasping for air? That's how I felt during this one. So much happens, and clearly this is a transitional novel in the story arc, so people come and go at a neck snapping pace.

There are really several story lines that play out in this manga series. There is what happens in the Inner Chamber with the Shogun, her concubines, and all the gossipy men. Then there is what happens in Edo and the rest of Japan during the time of the Redface Pox. And, finally, there is the exploration of how society changes as women are now widely acknowledged as heads of family. Absolutely fascinating.

But that is not to say that I don't have my gripes. There are so many people in this series, and because the art makes many of the key characters look alike, it is sometimes hard to keep track of them. The formal way of speaking continues to annoy me, but in spite of all that, I continue to love this series, and cannot wait to see what happens next. Rating: 4 stars.

17. Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery
Book blurb: Who are the Rat Queens? A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they're in the business of killing all god's creatures for profit. This volume collects issues #1-5.

I've been so looking forward to this graphic novel series, after all what is not to love about booze guzzling, feminist kick-ass-take-no-prisoners women friends? However, it takes a while to build up and get really good. In the first half of this volume, the plot line is weak, and the characters rather one dimensional, but thankfully the second half is better, way better, than the first half. Yes, the hype about all the diversity is true, but what I really appreciated is the the refreshing look at the friendship and rivalry between the four friends. The world building is interesting, and it is so wonderful to finally have a selection of comics that appeal to women. Bloody, raunchy, and fun. Rating: 4 stars.

18. Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations
You'd think that just based on the title of the book that I would love this one, but you'd be wrong. And you guys, this book is a thing of beauty to hold and flip through. How did such a wonderful premise go so wrong? Yes, it has lovely maps (something I always geek out about), and there are some interesting nuggets, but overall this one simply fell flat in the execution. Each location has about a page of information, and a map, and maybe some diagrams. After randomly reading six essays, am bored, and disappointed, and have bailed on it. What a bummer. Rating: 1 star.

19. Rat Queens, Vol. 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth
This volume collects issues #6-10.

Bilford Bogin, but this volume is even better than the first! This volume opens with the-morning-after frames of Betty, Hannah, Violet, and Dee, and not everyone is happy with how the night went. There are plots and intrigue afoot, so lots of action scenes with lots of blood soaked frames. This volume has flashbacks to key occasions in the women's back stories, and these are so good. I continue to really enjoy the humor, friendship, and loyalty of our Rat Queens, and cannot wait to see what our smidgen, dwarf, elf, and Cthulu priestess get up to in the next volume. Rating: 4 stars.

20. How to Relax
Thich Nhat Hanh says that when we relax, we “become calm water, and we will reflect reality as it is. If we’re not calm, the image we reflect will be distorted. When the image is distorted by our minds, it’s not the reality, and it causes lots of suffering.”

This is a little book, and I mean teeny weeny, with a big message: Relaxation is important, nay, vital for your well being. And if you don't think that's important, then think about how your well being affects not only the well being of your loved ones, but that of the entire world. It's enough to make anyone feel rather anxious!

This little (I keep saying that, don't I?) book has one or two page meditations to think about. And by meditations, I don't mean the Om kind, though it has those too, but the things-to-ponder kind. There are also cute illustrations to help remind you to not take yourself so seriously. Feel free to dip in and out at your leisure. This little (there I go again) gem is a reminder that we are way more than our to-do lists. Rating: 4 stars.

March 26, 2016

2016 Journals and Planner, plus a Sketchbook Flip Through of my Nightstand Binder Journal (Video)

Here is a quick video of the journals I'm using this year.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

March 25, 2016

Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator (Video)

While having lunch the other day, watched this funny and really quite motivational TED talk. After watching it, do let me know if you don't suddenly see your life and time differently.

Tim Urban knows that procrastination doesn't make sense, but he's never been able to shake his habit of waiting until the last minute to get things done. In this hilarious and insightful talk, Urban takes us on a journey through YouTube binges, Wikipedia rabbit holes and bouts of staring out the window — and encourages us to think harder about what we're really procrastinating on, before we run out of time.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

March 24, 2016

Cinemascope: Before Sunrise

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: On his way to Vienna, American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Celine (Julie Delpy), a student returning to Paris. After long conversations forge a surprising connection between them, Jesse convinces Celine to get off the train with him in Vienna. Since his flight to the U.S. departs the next morning and he has no money for lodging, they wander the city together, taking in the experiences of Vienna and each other. As the night progresses, their bond makes separating in the morning a difficult choice.

I recently learned that there was a third movie in this series, so have decided to watch the first two again, and oh man does this one hold up. It is beautifully done, and it makes me rather nostalgic for a time without smart phones and internet cafes. A lovely exploration of how a random encounter can deeply affect you, and the part I loved most is that this movie is an ode to the art of conversation.

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

March 22, 2016

Journal pages

I continue to play with art supplies in my journals. This is my smaller DIY traveler's notebook, and I love the portability of it. 

(Click on image to view larger)

Supplies used were a Sharpie pen, and Sharpie Flip Chart markers. Love how it turned out.

March 21, 2016

Recent Reads

11. Bitch Planet, Vol 1: Extraordinary Machine
Collects Volume collects Issues #1-5.

I am so loving the graphic novels that women are creating these days, and this one is the best of the lot that I've read recently. It tackles so many issues head on, and with a wonderful sense of humor. Women come in all shapes and sizes and colors and attitudes, and I simply love that this story goes boldly where few comics have gone before.

The premise is that women who are non-compliant in any way, are shipped off planet to a prison on another planet. The tongue in cheek manner in which many issues women face daily is explored is simply brilliant, with shades of The Running Man meets Orange is the New Black. My favorite part are those ad pages that each issue ends with, selling all sorts of things to fix you and make you the "right kind" of woman.

My only complaint is that I'm not totally loving the art, and this one does more world building than character/plot development, but that is a minor nit compared to how much I loved it. This series is labeled M for Mature Content, and I'd recommend it to everyone 17 and older. Rating: 5 stars.

12. Girls Standing on Lawns
Book burb: This clever book contains 40 vintage photographs from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, more than a dozen original paintings by Kalman inspired by the photographs, and brief, lyrical texts by Handler.

Here's the thing, I read and really loved the second book in this collaboration series, but this one did not work for me. Yes, I think there is a sweetness and innocence captured in these anonymous photos, but I did not love Kalman's art as much in this one, and Handler's text did nothing for me whatsoever. Overall this was OK, but I do know there is a third book in the series which I will be checking out. Maybe it's just the freshmen effort that doesn't work for me. Rating: 2 stars.

13. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 2
I am so enjoying this manga series, and am reading them slowly as to make it last. Don't you just love books like that?

Okay, we are in 17th century Japan, and the Shogun is a woman, and the harem is full of beautiful men. How did that happen? If you've read the first volume, you already know that the Redface Pox is wiping out Japanese men at an alarming rate, but then the story picks up 80 years later. What happened during those 80 years? This volume is a prequel to the first, and we rewind the clock 80 years as the current Shogun, Yoshimune, reads the Chronicle of the Dying Day. We meet new characters, and fill in the parts of the story that we've all been wondering about. Beautifully told and illustrated, funny, violent, sad, and tragic. The author wonderfully fleshes out the characters and their life stories, and makes the events that unfold seem believable. I love the real history woven into the story, but am still annoyed with the clunky formal manner of speaking. The translation is jarring, and yet I am fully immersed in this alternate history of Japan. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is Games of Thrones with Samurai.

I recently picked up the next five books in the series, so there will be a binge reading session soon. Rating: 4 stars.

14. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 3
Book blurb: The tale told in the Chronicle of the Dying Day continues as the young female shogun Iemitsu tries desperately to conceive a male heir. But her lover Arikoto seems unable to give her a child, and they must betray their hearts to save their country.

I continue to love this manga series. In this installment, we remember what we all already know, that sometimes life is too good to be true. Our woman shogun and her lover are very much in love, but she has a duty to beget (don't you just love that word?) a heir, or else chaos will ensure. And our shogun is not one to shirk her duties. What happens next and how the story unfolds is such a great read. Rating: 4 stars.

15. Do the Work
This slight book (really an essay) is a swift kick in the butt. If you have a project, any project, and find yourself procrastinating, this little book is a wonderful guide to help you get going. It has wonderful nuggets like, "Start before you're ready." There is nothing totally new in this book, but I found the concise advice and tips very useful, and this quick read is akin to having a personal trainer help give you the push you need to get better at whatever it is that you are trying to do. I have no doubt that I will re-read this as often as needed. Rating: 4 stars.

March 18, 2016

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Encryption (Video)

The erosion of privacy is a clear and present danger in my opinion. I love that John Oliver explores the topic.

"Strong encryption poses problems for law enforcement, is weakening it worth the risks it presents? It’s…complicated."

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

March 17, 2016

Cinemascope: The People vs OJ Simpson

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

Released in 2016.

Plot line: The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story explores the chaotic behind-the scenes dealings and maneuvering on both sides of the O.J. Simpson trial.

People, this has got to be the best show on TV I've watched in ages. There are so many issues of real importance explored in this show, and the cast is really great. I am so mad most of the time - so be warned, this is not a show to sit and watch if you are looking for a feel good evening. This show has resurrected so much of the debates we had in my home during the actual OJ trial, and there is still much to discuss. Absolutely worth your time.

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

March 15, 2016

Journal pages

I continue to love my new DIY leather traveler's journal. I've been reading loads of graphic novels lately, and if I like the art, I try to recreate some of it in my journals. These pages were inspired by this book

(Click image to enlarge)

Pen and watercolors.

March 14, 2016

Recent Reads

6. The Sixth Extinction
This Pulitzer Prize winner for General Nonfiction (2015) was my book club selection this month, and I listened to the audiobook, which is really well narrated by Anne Twomey.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari was my absolute favorite book last year, so I was primed to read this one. This non-fiction science book briefly covers the major and minor extinction cycles that have occured over the life of the planet, as well as current theories as to what caused them. The book is divided into 13 chapters, and each chapter deals with a specific current extinction, or near extinction, event.

I loved the dots that this book connected for me. I loved that this current extinction cycle (clearly caused by Sapiens) is discussed in the context of the very long history of the planet. I loved learning about things I had no idea about, annual coral reef sex orgies comes to mind, and was saddened to learn about some of the species that have gone the way of the Dodo in my lifetime. I loved the science and learning about some scientists I knew nothing about. There is so much covered here, but all in a very accessible, easy to read manner.

I am surprised that I was left with a feeling of hope at the end of this book. Not because I think that Humans will halt or reverse the processes we have put into play, but rather because after we become extinct, life will continue to find a way. Context is everything. I highly recommend this one. Rating: 5 stars.

7. Evidence: The Art of Candy Jernigan
I am fascinated by how creative people see, experience, and document their encounters with life. Some people write, others draw, or sketch, or take photographs, or write haiku. The author uses the ephemera from her life and travels, and collects them in her journals and art pieces. It seems that nothing misses her attention - receipts, toilet paper, drug vials, tickets, food and drinks, etc. This book is like holding an art installation of the author's work in your hands.

This is the second time I've looked through this book, and her work always inspires me to see, not just look, at all the flotsam of my life. Rating: 4 stars.

8. Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days
This volume collects issues #16-19.

Kamala Khan is drowning her sorrows with way too many hot dogs, when she finds out her brother has been kidnapped by the evil, yet incredibly handsome, Kamran. And if that weren't enough, the End of Days are nigh! Good thing she gets a helping hand from Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, herself. What does the future hold in store?

This is my least favorite of the series so far. There is very little plot, though the art is back to being really good again. There are some fun parts, and I loved the scene Kamala has with her mother, but overall, I found this one rather preachy and boring.

The book ends with a couple of issues of Amazing Spiderman, which is pure padding in my opinion. Don't care that Kamala meets up with Spider Man. Different universe, of which I am not a fan, so skimmed that section.

Hopefully, the next run of this comic will get back to the roots of the Kamala story, which is what drew me here in the first place. Rating: 2 stars.

9. Trashed
How many of us think about what happens to the trash we leave out on the curb each week, let alone think about the people who take away said trash?

This graphic novel is part memoir, part fiction, and part non-fiction. The author was a garbage man for a couple of years, and in this book he compiles his "best hits" of stories from that period in his life. He mixes in lots of factual information about garbage statics, much of which is sobering, and way worse than even I had imagined.

This book should be getting higher marks from me. I really liked the art, there are amusing and horrifying vignettes shared, and the facts alone are worth the price of admission, but somehow I found the lack of an overall cohesiveness something that bothered me. The author does state that what started out as a memoir, did not have enough material, so he flushes it out with the data, and therein lies the problem. The books feels like two projects mashed together, with all the seams showing and distracting. Still, I'd recommend it for anyone who wants to understand more about garbage, and that should really be all of us. Rating: 3 stars.

10. Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them
I'm the only one of my siblings without a tattoo, and I'm supposedly the most unconventional one of the lot. Go figure. It's not that I have anything against tats in particular, it's just that I cannot imagine what I'd ink on my body that I would still love a decade from now. I see many people with tats, and I'm always curious as to the story of how they picked that particular design. There are tats I find attractive, and ones I'm horrified by, and when everyone and their mother seems to have one, the notion of tats do not seem that radical, or anti-establishment to me. But, that is just my opinion.

This little book is a collection of artist sketches/paintings of tattoos that people (some famous, some not) have inked on their bodies, and the stories behind them. I liked the art, and it did help me understand and appreciate the reasoning behind the urge to get one. However, this is a collection of images/stories that was compiled from a blog, and I found myself wanting more. Still, it is a fun, quick read for anyone who has a tattoo or two, or anyone interested in reading about the stories behind some of them. Rating: 3 stars.

March 13, 2016

I love graphic novels

I read comics as a kid, but other than a couple of good ones, most of them were ridiculous and not very interesting, so I am delighted at the wonderful variety of comics available today. I find them at mainstream bookstores and my library, and while I don't love each comic I read, just having access to so many of them makes me quite happy.

If you have not read a comic since you were a kid, do give try them again. Some of the best writing out there today is in comic format.

March 12, 2016

10 ways to have a better conversation | Celeste Headlee (Video)

I know I am not alone in thinking that all our ever present technology has had the downside of making people poor conversationalists, so this is a wonderful and timely talk.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

March 11, 2016

Journal pages

Rainy days are perfect for playing with art supplies. I am loving my new DIY leather traveler's notebook that I made last month. It just makes me happy.

The pen and watercolor art is inspired by Scott C. I recently flipped through his book, The Great Showdowns, and I quite like his whimsical style of drawing.

Click on image to view larger.

March 10, 2016

Cinemascope: The Contender

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

Released in 2003.

Plot line: When the sitting Vice President dies, Senator Laine Hanson is chosen by the President to be the first woman to hold the office. The selection meets with opposition from members of both parties, in particular a powerful political adversary who will seemingly stop at nothing to discredit her. Her confirmation hearings set off a firestorm of controversy as shocking secrets from Hanson's past are revealed, threatening her personal life as well as her political future.

I can barely stand to watch any of the presidential debates or hoopla, so decided to watch a movie that I have loved each and every time I've watched it. And I still do. This is a fantastic political thriller that explores many important issues, and the cast and acting is superb.

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

March 8, 2016

Happy International Women's Day (Video)

Here's to Strong Women,
May we know them,
May we raise them,
May we be them.
- Anon.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

March 7, 2016

Recent Reads

1. Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)
This book is a perfect example of why one should not judge a book by its cover, and I honestly have to wonder if all the rave reviewers are reading the same book!

The basic premise sounded promising, but what grabbed my attention was the creative way the authors decided to tell this story. It plays out as a case file with audio and video transcripts, emails, memos, IMs, ship schematics, journal entries, and my fave, wonderful space images.

Unfortunately, the writing is not great, the plot is rather ridiculous, the characters were flat and had no personality at all, and to top it all off, there is a teen romance thing that made me want to barf. I've said this before, and I'll say it again, it takes a very talented writer to make someone else's romantic mushing not be barf inducing to people not in the relationship, and unfortunately, the authors did not succeed here.

Okay, so they did not nail the teen romance thing, but what about the ships in space thing, or the Artificial Intelligence thing, or the wormholes thing, or, or, or... Honestly, I was bored for much of this one, and kept putting the book down to do others things, and if it had not been for the creative manner the story was packaged, this would have gone into my DNF pile. This one is targeted at the young adult reader, and maybe it plays better for that age group.

I've added an additional star for creativity, but I'll not be picking up the rest of this trilogy. Rating: 2 stars.

2. Hurry Up and Wait
"How long can we stay here?
We hurry around for a while and then it's time to go.
Time to go. Everybody says it. Time to go.

And then we do."

I love art collaborations, and this book is the result of a collab between Maira Kalman (an author whose work I adore), Daniel Handler (a.k.a Lemony Snicket), and The Museum of Modern Art.

You've got to be in the right frame of mind to really get into this one. This little volume has text, paintings, and photographs, and if you really take it slowly, really read and let the text sink in, really look at the photographs and paintings, you cannot help but have a better understanding and appreciation of humanity, time, and this ephemeral thing called life.

I read someplace that this is the second such collab, and have already ordered the first book. Rating: 4 stars.

3. The Blue Whale
The natural world is fascinating, and this wonderful non-fiction picture book would make a great read/read aloud book for both kids and adults. The illustrations in this book are beautiful, and the factual text is conveyed in a simple, straightforward, and entertaining manner. I learned some stuff along the way as well, and would highly recommend this one if you have young readers in your home. Rating: 4 stars.

4. SuperMutant Magic Academy
Let me start this review by saying that I'm not a fan of the short story format. Why does that matter? Because this book is a collection of connected comic strips. Each page is a single vignette of life as experienced by a group of teens in their final years of high school. Yes, it is boarding school, and the kids are all mutants in some manner, but first and foremost they are teens, so prepare to wallow in vats of teen angst.

The mostly black and white art is really sketchy, which I did love it, but I think the author wonderfully captured the humor, anger, moodiness, and snarkiness of that age group. I read some place that is book is a collection of her web comics, and as with any anthology, there are some pieces that are fantastic and others that were merely OK. Still, the ones that are fantastic are breathtakingly on point, and I would highly recommend this one for older teens. Rating: 3 stars.

5. Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist
Having just completed of a daily sketching challenge in December, I'm already familiar with the concept of daily painting. This book was not what I expected it to be, and in that the fault is all mine. It does have some interesting background about the author and the Daily Painting blog/meme, but much of the book pertained to oil painting, which is not something I do. However, there are some general tips on composition, value, and color mixing that I found very helpful, and the art throughout is lovely. Rating: 2 stars.