September 26, 2016

Recent Reads

146. Clive Barker's The Thief of Always
I read an omnibus edition of this graphic novel that contained all three volumes, so I'll review them as a set here.

You know that saying, be careful what you wish for as you just might get it? This graphic novel is adapted from a book of the same name by Clive Barker, and I plan on reading that as well.

Harvey Swick is a bored little boy, and time seems to go by at a glacial pace. He wishes he could run away and have adventures. Then one day he meets someone who promises to take him to a place where all his wishes will come true. What happens when Harvey gets there, and the characters he meets is a fun read. The art is wonderfully evocative, and this would be the perfect story for young readers around Halloween. Spooky without being too scary. Rating: 3 stars.

147. Descender, Vol 1: Tin Stars
I really liked Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth and Trillium, and if you have yet to read those graphic novels, stop now and read those first. He knows how to tell a story with an emotional punch, and his art is very evocative of the mood he sets.

Based on his earlier works, I'd been waiting to start this new series until the second volume was issued, but there is something missing. It's a humans versus robots world, but the main thrust of the story is one I simply could care less about. What I love about this one is TIM-21, a young robot boy and his confusion upon waking up after a ten year nap, to find himself in a universe where all androids have been outlawed, bounty hunters lurk on every planet, and most importantly his human family missing.

Lemire does not really explore new territory (pun intended) with this one, and while I like the loose watercolor art, it takes a little getting used to. I like this enough to continue reading the series. Rating: 3 stars.

148. Descender, Vol 2: Machine Moon
This volume collects issues #7-11, and while the action picks up in this installment of the story, the dialog is uninspired and feels like place holder lines until the writer comes in to work. I'm also ambivalent about the watercolor artwork in this series. While it works really well for large scale scenes, it's rather too loose for close ups in my opinion.

I continue to love TIM-21, and the fact that his emotional setting is rather high compared to everyone else just makes me love him more. It's the people around him and their motivations that I could care less about. P.S. Could have told you who the masked dude was after the first two panels. Not sure if I'll continue with this series, though maybe I'll feel differently when the next volume appears. Isn't that the definition of insanity? Rating: 2 stars.

149. The Goblin Emperor
I listened to the audiobook which is wonderfully narrated by Kyle McCarley.

Having read several dark books lately, I was in the mood for some fun and light fantasy, and this book delivered just that. At about a third of the way in, I thought this would be a four star read, but then the plot starts to meander in unnecessary ways, and took too long to close.

This is the story of Maia, the forth half-elf/half-goblin son of the emperor, who has lived in exile his entire life. When there is already a heir and a couple of spares around, one does not expect to suddenly be Emperor, but this exactly what happens to Maia one morning. He has not been educated for this position, so has to be a quick study, and things proceed from there.

There is something about stories that feature abandoned/rejected/abused children who suddenly make good that cheers us immensely. Take a minute and thing about it - bet you can name at least a handful of stories you've loved with a similar premise. Like most of the books in that trope, this one is a feel good story that made me smile and root for our boy Maia. The world building is good, but the names of people, places, and ceremonies were ludicrous. It's as though the author threw darts at an alphabet board whenever she needed a name, and went with what the fates gave her. Thank goodness the narrator figured out how to say all those words. The only problem is that my brain kept thinking I was immersed in a new language, and worked very hard to learn it. {smile}.

As I mentioned earlier, the story does get rather too long winded, but if you are in the mood for a light fantasy tale you might like this one too. Rating: 3 stars.

150. The Girl on the Train
I recently saw the movie preview so decided it was time to read this much hyped book of last summer, and it unfolded as I suspected. I simply don't know why it is that a book loved by so many often does not resonate with me.

I really like the premise. Who has not sat on commuter trains, gone by the same houses, and wondered about the lives of people in those houses? Heck, I do that on late evening walks around my neighborhood. What I don't do is go totally nuts, which is what the main character in this story does. This all starts when she sees something that jolts her out of this fantasy world she created in her head about a particular couple in a particular house. She then proceeds to do things that are simply mind boggling, and what's more, everyone around her must have grown up in incredibly dysfunctional homes because they put up with her crazies. Honestly?

The story has three women narrators, and I usually find it interesting to see events from various points of view, but the writing voice for the three women is identical, so they all blur together. It was fairly obviously what happened early on, so I spent a long time waiting for the nutty one to figure things out in her nutty way. The writing is pedestrian, but the chapters are really short so it does make for a quick read.

There is not a single likable person, of either gender, in this story, but unfortunately none of them were fleshed out enough for me to push back on. A deeper dive into some of the experiences of the women in this story would have made this a much more compelling read. So yeah, not for me. I read this a week or so ago, and barely remember much other being annoyed most of the time. Rating: 2 stars.

September 22, 2016

Cinemascope: Meet The Patels

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

Image result for meet the patels

Released in 2014.

Plot line: This documentary is features an Indian-American man who is about and turn 30 gets help from his parents and extended family to start looking for a wife in the traditional Indian way.

This documentary is laugh out funny in places, and if you are either of South Asian descent, involved with a South Asian in any manner, or simply want to understand a culture through the particulars of one family's story, you have to watch this one. I was laughing and cringing, and even though I am not a Patel, we have a lot in common.

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

September 19, 2016

Recent Reads

141. The Drawing Lesson: A Graphic Novel That Teaches You How to Draw
This graphic novel has an interesting premise. Can you take the basics of how to draw, and incorporate them into a story? This book shows that you can. It's a cute story of a young boy who has a passion for drawing, and along the way the reader learns along with him the fundamentals of drawing. This would make a good introduction for young artists. Rating: 3 stars.

142. Lucky Penny
New Adults. Emerging Adults. Whatever you call them, this genre tends to deal with collage age-ish people and their woes and misadventures. I can see how this would appeal to many in a similar situation, but unless the story sheds some new light they don't work for me.

This graphic novel is about a young woman who loses her job, loses her apartment, and ends up living in a storage unit. The story is light and fluffy, and given some of the issues lightly touched upon, this would have been a much more interesting read if the author had dived deeper. The art is cute and manga-ish, with all those large eyes. A fast read that I will not remember having read in a week or two. Rating: 2 stars.

143. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (Delilah Dirk #1)
This graphic novel is about the swashbuckling (mis)adventures of Delilah Dirk. I especially like that the story starts in Constantinople and includes a Turkish angle. The art is good, and while I enjoyed all the action, I'm not sure that there was an actual plot. Still, this a fun read with an unorthodox heroine. Rating: 3 stars.

144. The Muralist
I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by Xe Sands, and I bailed about 32% in.

This story has so many elements that I usually love. It's a story with two time lines. The earlier one is set in the 1940s, and centers around a young painter in the days of the WPA, and her cadre of painters, who are household names today. The second story line is set in 2015 and centers around woman number one's grand niece. Painters, artists, missing people, authenticating artwork, the plight of Jewish refugees, etc. All these should have added up to something with more meat, but alas did not.

The writing itself is not bad, but the plot seemed to rely on the reader's emotional response to events surrounding World War 11, without the author earning those emotions, and that felt somewhat like cheating to me. There was not enough character development for me to know, or really care, about any of the people in this story, and they seemed to be generic stand-ins for historical figures. I don't have an issue with very specific stories that use war time or historical events as their backdrop, but the author must earn the emotions in the writing, and not simply move characters around while dropping clues that tell the reader what to feel.

On the plus side, this is the first that I'd heard about the history surround the MS St. Loius, and I plan to read more about it. Also, this book reminded me that I really should move a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt higher up my TBR pile.

This is the second book by this author that I have DNFed, both for similar reasons: books with a wonderful premise that do not deliver. Rating: 1 star.

145. Shelter
Someone close to me once said that he knew how to be a son, a husband, and a father, but not all at the same time.

I read this book in three sittings, and I don't recall a book that has so haunted my dreams in a very long time. The premise is a deceptively simple one: what does it mean to provide for one's family? It is what the author does with this question that makes this very hyped book deserve all the hype.

This is an example of a book that the less you know going in the better. The author explores so many themes really well in this slim novel. We get a look behind closed doors at a couple of marriages, parent - child relationships, and violence in various forms. There is much to ponder about humanity and yourself while reading this one, and you will not look at things the same way after you are done.

I really cannot say more without giving away things that are better discovered while reading it yourself. I docked a star because this is a debut novel, and it shows in parts, but I cannot wait to see what else this author uncorks in the future. Rating: 4 stars.

September 18, 2016

Vegas 2016 Traveler's Notebook - PreTrip (Video)

Here's the new journal I'll be using on an upcoming trip.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

Links to videos mentioned:
Creative Tip: Re-use Sticker Backing as Stencils
Turkey Travel Journal
Journal Tips

September 15, 2016

Cinemascope: Underground (Season 1)

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

Image result for underground tv show

Released in 2016.

Plot line: Underground centers on a group of slaves planning a daring 600-mile escape from a Georgia plantation. Along the way, they are aided by a secret abolitionist couple running a station on the Underground Railroad as they attempt to evade the people charged with bringing them back, dead or alive. As an aside, it is really wonderful to see so many people of color on the screen.

This is an interesting show, and while it has its flaws it is an interesting and disturbing show that looks at various angles surrounding a significant part of US history. History is an accounting of what happened as told by the victors, and it is always a good thing to balance the telling of it from various points of view. Injustice and oppression affects every single person in the sphere of their influence, not just the victims, and I think this show explores some of that as well.

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

September 12, 2016

Recent Reads

136. All Things Cease to Appear
I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Kirsten Potter.

The basic premise is that a man comes home one day to find his wife dead, and his three year old daughter alone in the house with said dead Mom. Who dunnit?

I knew within the first several chapters who did it, but was interested to see how the author would spin out the yarn. The writing is solid, the character development interesting, and the setting very atmospheric, but, and it a huge but, the plot itself lacked any drive. There were too many character points of view, many of which did not add to the story in my opinion. The supernatural touch was entirely out of context, and did not work at all. There were two things that kept me reading:

1. The exploration of how marriages can deteriorate over time and circumstance.
2. The manner in which the author addresses mental illness and the unraveling of a mind.

The final chapters of the book were rather predictable and completely unbelievable, and I might be the only person who liked the ending for the killer. This is quick summer read, and while I enjoyed it at the time, it has not stayed with me. Rating: 3 stars.

137. Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges Trilogy #1)
I listened to the audiobook, which is superbly narrated by Will Patton.

The final book in this trilogy was released recently, so decided to dive in. This is the first King I've read that is a detective story. I don't think he's done it before, and it shows.

The title refers to a person who used said car to plow through a crowd, killing and injuring many. The killer escapes. The protagonist is a retired cop, who is haunted by this unsolved crime, and is not handing retirement too well. The story goes back and forth between the cop and the killer, with a smattering of other characters to help flesh out the story.

In classic King style, this is a fast paced and fun ride. However, there is not much character development, there are so many implausible things that happen, and do not get me started on the ridiculous women characters. Does King really not know any woman who can parallel park a car? Sigh.

If you can ignore the flaws I've outlined above, this would make a good beach/airplane read. I've got the other two books on audio, and in spite of the superb narrator, I'm in no hurry to get to them at this time. Rating: 3 stars.

138. Hamilton: The Revolution
This Broadway musical hit is impossible to get tickets for, so I opted for the next best thing. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Mariska Hargitay. Lin-Manuel Miranda narrates his annotations at the end.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked up this audiobook, but what I got was a delightful back stage pass to the show's inspiration, creation, and production. Also included was a short biography of all the major players, both in the cast and those behind the scenes.

This is a really wonderful look at how work gets done, and if you are person who enjoys seeing how the art (or sausage) is made, you'll enjoy it too. What I did not expect was to be in tears at various points of the book. I've got the original cast soundtrack on deck to listen to next, and plan to read the biography by Chernow as well. Rating: 4 stars.

139. The Rook (The Checquy Files #1)
"The body you are wearing used to be mine."

That might well be one of my top 10 fave first lines ever. Imagine that you wake up with no memories, and then find letters in your pocket that inform you that you are now inhabiting the body of someone else, who sadly has been separated from it. What do you do?

This is clearly a case of the right book finding the right reader at the right time. I cannot even begin to explain why I enjoyed this one so much, as much of it is ridiculously over the top. It's like a Jason Bourne/ Harry Potter/ Men in Black mashup, and I enjoyed every minute of the ride. The story alternates between letters from the woman who used to inhabit said body, and the current day resident of the body as she tries to figure out what the heck is going on. The humor had me laughing out loud several times.

This is a fun romp of a read, and while it might not be for everyone, I'd suggest giving it a try. Rating: 4 stars.

140. The Geek Feminist Revolution
"There are many ways to silence a woman, and not all of them involve getting her to stop speaking. Sometimes it's enough to simply ensure all she speaks about is you."

If you are looking for a fun, fast read look elsewhere. I found this collection of essays educational and thought provoking. It is always interesting to see how the younger generation deals with feminist issues. The author takes on popular culture, and holds everyone, including herself, accountable. There are so many lines that I highlighted in this collection.

I deducted a star because there was a bit too much repetition in several of the essays, and some of the essays addressed issues faced by writers, particularly women in the science fiction and fantasy genre, and I'm not really the target audience for those, even though they were enlightening.

This is the first book I've read by this author, and I'll be trying some of her fiction next. Rating: 4 stars.

September 11, 2016

Creative Tip: Re-use Sticker Backing as Stencils (Video)

A fun and easy way to get more bang for your buck from stickers.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

Links to other videos you might be interested in:
Summer 2016 Traveler's Notebook
2016 Journals and Planner, plus a Sketchbook Flip Through of my Nightstand Binder Journal
Turkey Travel Jounal

September 6, 2016

Journal pages / Journal Flip Through (Video)

I've completed the first insert of the fabric Traveler's Notebook I'm using this summer, so here's a journal flip.

If the embedded link does not work, click here.

Links to other videos you might be interested in:
Summer 2016 Traveler's Notebook
2016 Journals and Planner, plus a Sketchbook Flip Through of my Nightstand Binder Journal
Turkey Travel Jounal

September 5, 2016

Recent Reads

131. Brown Girl Dreaming
This book won several awards including the National Book Award for Young People's Literature (2014). A novel in verse for kids you say? I was intrigued.

I listened to the audiobook which was well narrated by the author.

I'm not sure that novel is an accurate label for this one. I'd go with memoir. I don't think I've ever read anything quite like it before, and it took a little while to understand that this was really a memoir told in short, very short, poems. Once I settled into the groove of the narration, I enjoyed the ride.

This coming of age memoir reflects the personal, familial, societal, and political waypoints of a young African American girl growing up in the 1960s and 70s. We still live in a world where the color of one's skin matters, and I really liked how the author explores the concept of home in a world that tells you that you don't belong. I was especially delighted with all the vignettes that highlighted her relationship with her grandparents.

The language is lovely, and the author evokes her childhood with such clarity that I questioned how it was possible for her to "remember" events that happened when she was so young. Memory is a strange thing, and in the afterword, the author outlines her sources.

This book would be a wonderful way to introduce middle grade readers to the themes covered here. A quick and lovely read. Rating: 4 stars.

132. Lonely Planet Washington, DC (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet is one of my go-to travel guides, and this one was exactly what I expected. Easy to use, clearly laid out, and I especially liked the updated information section. Came in very handy on a recent trip. Rating: 3 stars.

133. Saga, Volume 6
This volume collects issues #31-36.

“Anyone who thinks one book has all the answers hasn’t read enough books.”

I do the happy dance every time I get one of these volumes in my hands. This graphic novel series continues to be smart and funny and inclusive and all around lovely. The art is really great, and Hazel is growing up so fast. There are scenes in this one that actually left me with my mouth open in disbelief. Such a fun series, and if you are not reading along, whatever are you waiting for? Rating: 4 stars.

134. Our Souls at Night
This is the first book I've read by the author, and based on all the rave reviews this book has garnered, I was sure I'd love it. Alas, no.

The premise is an interesting one. A lonely widow, aged 70, decides to ask her neighbor, an elderly widower, if he would consider sleeping together. Not for sex, mind you, but rather like a sleepover, for companionship. Such a wonderful premise right?

What I really liked about this novella is that the story is based on a relationship between two elderly people - not something that is usually given its due. I also really liked that Addie, the woman, is the instigator of this arrangement. This is a simple, quiet story about two ordinary people, living ordinary lives, and there is a beauty to that.

However, I found the writing itself to be rather pedestrian, and there was too much telling and not enough showing. They did this, then did that, then did this. That did not work for me at all, and I found it a really distracting style of story telling. Without going into details, so as to not spoil the story for those who have not read it, I found certain details implausible and I could not suspend my disbelief enough to really go along for the ride.

It seems that everyone I know loves this author, and this book in particular. It works well as a stand alone, and I'll be curious to read his earlier beloved works to see if they work better for me. This one gets a 2.5 stars, and I'll round up to 3 because of Addie. Rating: 3 stars.

135. Rat Queens, Vol. 3: Demons
This volume collects Issues #11-15.

This installment, while fun, is not as engaging as the first two. The one focuses mainly on Hannah, and fleshes out more of her back story. The other Queens basically sit around while all this is going on. The art is really good, but in this installment everyone seems to have had some plastic surgery to enhance the usual areas. Why is it that we can't have kick ass women that don't look like porn stars? Sigh. Rating: 3 stars.

September 2, 2016

Journal pages (Video)

Remember those glue gun stencils and my new traveler's notebook inserts? Well, here's what happened with those. 

You can see a video slideshow of the steps to creating this page below.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

September 1, 2016

Cinemascope: The Night Manager

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: Based on John le CarrĂ©'s novel of the same name, `The Night Manager' is a crime drama following the work of former British soldier Jonathan Pine. Hotel night porter Pine is contacted by an intelligence operative who asks for his assistance to spy on international businessman Richard Roper. The entrepreneur is believed to have forged a criminal alliance between the secret arms trade and the intelligence community, prompting the need for surveillance. Pine attempts to infiltrate Roper's inner circle by becoming a felon himself, while keeping his mission a secret from his hotel colleagues and girlfriend.

If you are a fan of spy/espionage books and movies, you have to try this one. I have yet to read the book, but this show is wonderfully produced. I realize that so many of the movies or TV shows I've been recommending lately are based on books. Not a surprise really right?

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