June 26, 2017

Recent Reads

64. The Clay Girl
I haven't felt this way about a book in a long time. I loved everything about it and will re-read it, and I say that as someone who isn't a re-reader. I'm not sure I can put all my emotions into any coherent words, so this is the best I can do at this time.

Let me first start by saying that the Goodreads blurb and some reviews of this book give too much away. The slow reveal is part of what makes this such an amazing read.

This is the story of Ari, an eight year old girl who lives in Canada. She is the youngest of six sisters, and her home life is horrible. When we meet her, she is being shipped off to stay with an Aunt because of a devastating family event, and it is not the first time she has been farmed out. The story is told from Ari's POV (1st person), and we follow her from age 8 to about about 16.

The voice in this book is fantastic. Ari's life is dark, very dark, so she spends much time in her imagination, and we get to see the world through her eyes as she learns more about herself and the people around her. I loved the writing, especially the first third of the book, which was magically poetic. The writing in the later sections while still luminous sounds different, and that makes sense as Ari gets older. There are many characters in this story and they all felt real and well fleshed out. There are people I wanted to hug close, and others I wanted to hit with a saucepan. Horrible things happen both off page and on, and yet the author infused so much light and joy into this dark tale that I never felt suffocated. The juxtaposition of the hurt and love that family inflict and the kindness of teachers had me reaching for my box of Kleenex oh so many times. I loved and really cared about the people in this story, and I kept putting the book down so as to not get to the end too fast. I smiled and cried, my heart was broken and then mended. This one will stay with me for a long time.

That this is a debut novel is astonishing, and I've found a new author and publishing house to keep my eye on. Highly recommended. Rating: 5 stars.

65. The Best We Could Do
3.5 stars.

At what point in our lives do we realize that our parents are people in their own rights that have nothing to do with us? In this graphic memoir, the author fully appreciates this when she gives birth to her son.

This is the story of her parents lives in Vietnam before they met each other, their early years together, and the family's escape from Vietnam in the 1970s, finally ending up in America. While it's technically true that refugees are immigrants, the specifics can be sobering. I really appreciated how the author explored themes of family, home, and the cultural challenges of being a stranger in a strange land. I also liked the perspective that different generations of her family had about Vietnam. This is a memoir though, and I do think that the author shied away from certain topics which resulted in some disjointed sections, and left rather large gaps in the story. Maybe this was done out of respect for her parent's feelings, but there are huge elephant sized issues that either get glossed over or aren't addressed at all. I really liked the art and despite my complaints I'm delighted to see more diversity in this genre. A timely read for our times indeed. Rating: rounded up to 4 stars.

66. I'm Not Scared
“Stop all this talk about monsters, Michele. Monsters don’t exist. It’s men you should be afraid of, not monsters.”

This coming of age story is translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt.

A bunch of kids are out riding their bikes in a tiny village in Southern Italy. On a dare one of them enters an abandoned farmhouse and stumbles upon something horrible.

The protagonist of this story is a nine year old boy, and themes explored include the loss of childhood innocence, and the confusion of trying to make sense of the adult world. I really liked the setting, and the sense of place in this story. Much of the confusion for the reader makes a certain amount of sense as we only know what the nine year old knows - though there are some things we, the adult reader, understand that he does not. While I liked it, it didn't get a higher rating because I wasn't really sucked into the story and things seemed to happen at an emotional distance, though maybe that's because the character is only nine. The buildup is slow which made the rushed ending seem out of place. I for one did like that final scene, a tad predictable yes, but it was good nonetheless. Rating: 3 stars.

June 22, 2017

Cinemascope: The Purity Myth

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

Image result for the purity myth documentary poster

Released in 2011.

Plot line: In this video adaptation of her bestselling book, pioneering feminist blogger Jessica Valenti trains her sights on "the virginity movement" -- an unholy alliance of evangelical Christians, right-wing politicians, and conservative policy intellectuals who have been exploiting irrational fears about women's sexuality to roll back women's rights. From dad-and-daughter "purity balls," taxpayer-funded abstinence-only curricula, and political attacks on Planned Parenthood, to recent attempts by legislators to de-fund women's reproductive health care and narrow the legal definition of rape, Valenti identifies a single, unifying assumption: the myth that the worth of a woman depends on what she does -- or does not do -- sexually. In the end, Valenti argues that the health and well-being of women are too important to be left to ideologues bent on vilifying feminism and undermining women's autonomy.

This documentary is based on a book I've got on my to-be-read list, but I somehow missed this when it was released. It's a short and disturbing documentary that highlights the value patriarchal systems place on women's virginity. This has been an issue for hundreds if not thousands of years, and the fact that many still believe stuff like this is 2017 is mind boggling. Where is the outcry about boys and their purity? Typical double standard that makes my head hurt. There is so much more to a woman than her virginity status people, but if you read my blog you don't need me to remind you of that.

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

June 19, 2017

Recent Reads

61. Sex Criminals, Vol. 3: Three the Hard Way
This graphic novel series should be great, but it's hit or miss for me. I continue to enjoy the art, the character development, the premise, the diversity, and the sex positivity of this series, but the story didn't move forward at all in this volume. Very meta, and while that is cool, I need more. The weakest installment so far. Rating: 2 stars.

62. The Blue Hour
3.5 stars

This children's picture book is hard for me to rate. The art is visually stunning, and I could look at these pages for a very long time. Simply beautiful. The text however is dull and boring. Given that this is about the the magical twilight hour, I expected more from the text. Now, I loved reading Goodnight Moon to my nephews when they were little, and they loved it too, and in no way would I say that the text was amazing, so maybe the reason I found the text so lack luster with this one is that I was missing a wee one in my lap to read aloud to. I'd give the art 5 stars, the text 2, and will round up because this one is worth picking up for the art alone. Rating: 4 stars.

63. The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Book blurb: In a triumph of multidisciplinary thinking, Johnson illuminates the intertwined histories and interconnectedness of the spread of disease, contagion theory, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry, offering both a riveting history and a powerful explanation of how it has shaped the world we live in.

At 20.0% An interesting side effect of reading about cholera is that I'm constantly thirsty.
At 40.0%: Unlike Jon Snow from GOT, this John Snow knows something!

I listened to the audiobook which is wonderfully narrated by Alan Sklar.

Oh the things we take for granted in this part of the world: clean water (well, maybe not in Flint), sewage pipes, epidemiology and the understanding of disease pathways. It's easy to forget that much of the world is not as lucky, and that not that long ago cholera outbreaks wiped out a significant percentage of the populations affected.

I love narrative non-fiction books that combine science, medicine, history and still read like a thriller. Over the past several years I've become fascinated by contagious diseases, their origins, how they spread, how we reduce (or not) the mortality rates and this book is another piece of the mosaic. I was fascinated, educated, horrified, and filled with admiration for the two men, one of science and one of the cloth, who solved the puzzle of the cholera outbreak in London in 1854. Each and every one of us living in an urban area today owe a debt of gratitude to these two men.

There are so many topics covered in this one book, and I really enjoyed reading about and pondering the implications of the sheer number of humans on the planet and what might be in store for us. The only reason I docked a star was because there was quite a bit of repetition and the epilogue contains the author's opinions on bio-terrorism and nuclear policies, both of which while important seemed completely out of context in this book. Better editing would have resolved these issues. Rating: 4 stars.

June 15, 2017

Cinemascope: Big Little Lies

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

Image result for big little lies hbo

Released in 2017.

Plot line: Based on the same-titled best-seller by Liane Moriarty, "Big Little Lies" weaves a darkly comedic tale of murder and mischief in the tranquil beachfront town of Monterey, Calif. Amidst doting moms, successful husbands, beautiful children, and stunning homes exists a community fueled by rumors and divided into haves and have-nots, exposing fractured relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends and neighbors. Told through the eyes of three mothers -- Madeline, Celeste and Jane -- the series' narrative explores society's myths regarding perfection and its romanticization of marriage, sex, parenting and friendship. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley star as the three prominent "mothers of Monterey."

A shout out to HBO for this one. I just know that the book would not work for me, I mean look at that premise. Poor rich white women? Not my cup of tea in prose, but this show you guys is fantastic. Yes there are obscene amounts of wealth on display, but I loved that this is really a story about women: women judging each other, being there for one another, using their children as weapons, and the reality of violence against women. It's an honest look at the good, the bad and the ugly, and I love that roles like these are being created for older women in the industry.

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

June 14, 2017

Journal pages

I continue to fill up my cheap sketchbook. Today's inspiration is the art of Julia Sarda.

June 12, 2017

Recent Reads

58. Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
I'll start this review by saying that as a kid growing up in Kenya, I was very pro-Palestinian. As an adult I consulted with a tech company in Tel Aviv over the course of eighteen months or so, and visited Israel a total of five times. It took me actually being on the ground to realize the complexity of the situation, and the atrocities committed by all sides made uncomplicated opinions a relic from my childhood.

The author is an artist and stay-at-home-dad, and ends up in various parts of the world based on where his wife (a Médecins Sans Frontières administrator) is stationed. In this graphic memoir, he sketches his lived experience in and around Jerusalem. He does reportage, and in doing so keeps most of the larger political and emotional issues at bay by simply focusing on what he actually sees, experiences, and learns during his stay in the country. I really appreciated the stranger in a strange land perspective. The juxtaposition of the mundane with the religious and violence is a surreal experience, and I especially loved the sections with the wall. I too was fascinated by it, and I'm not talking about the Wailing Wall here, though that too is fascinating. I continue to like the art, and in my opinion this is his best work yet. Rating: 4 stars.

59. The Dark Flood Rises
Bailed at page 85.

This is the first book I've read by the author, and I'm disappointed that I didn't like it enough to finish it. It started out well enough, and I quite enjoyed being in the head of Francesca Stubbs, who might be old but is certainly not out. There are other characters I also found amusing, but after I put the book down a couple of times I was reluctant to pick it up again. The writing is good and there are really wonderful flashes of insight about aging, death, family, love, and relationships, but those flashes were not enough to pull me through the story. I think if I'd made it to the end of the book I'd have given it 2 stars, but I'm not in the mood to do so, so onto the DNF pile it goes. Rating: 1 star.

60. Saga, Vol. 7
I honestly don't know what to say about this series that hasn't been already said. It's wonderful, the characters are well fleshed out, the art continues to be great, and I want me a L.C. This is an almost self contained installment, and I really enjoyed the exploration of love, family, loyalty, war, and refugees. I'd said it before and I'll say it again - if you aren't reading Saga, what on earth are you waiting for? I'll be waiting impatiently for the next volume, which cannot come soon enough. Rating: 4 stars.

June 10, 2017

Journal pages

Yes I could simply have used a journal with mixed media paper, but then what would I do with this cheap Artist's Loft sketchbook? 4 pages down 106 to go...

June 8, 2017

Cinemascope: Dear White People (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 dear white people netflix

Released in 2017.

Plot line: Based on the acclaimed film of the same name, this Netflix-original series follows a group of students of color at Winchester University, a predominantly white Ivy League college. The students are faced with a landscape of cultural bias, social injustice, misguided activism and slippery politics. Through an absurdist lens, the series uses irony, self-deprecation, brutal honesty and humor to highlight issues that still plague today's"post-racial" society.

Am really loving some of the Netflix shows this year. I was skeptical about this one. Racism is not an easy subject to talk about without offending someone, and while I'm sure there are people offended by this show I was not in that number. Thought provoking, salient, timely, and I was so reminded of certain moments in my own college years. I liked this series better than the movie.

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

June 5, 2017

Recent Reads

55. A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)
I recently asked my nieces and nephews to recommend books they thought I must read. This was the one my thirteen and a half year old niece, Sophia, selected. She loves the first two books in the series, and when she sent me a text that the third in the series was released earlier this month, she had am emoji with hearts for eyes, which made me smile.

I was not smiling while reading this book however. It's a mashup between Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, with Game of Thrones undertones and faeries. On the plus side, this is a really fast read and the main female protagonist does not become putty when strong male arms surround her. The world building is fun, and I enjoyed the varied cast of characters, though I found the main guy (aka Beast) rather annoying. I was surprised by some of the gruesome and bloody scenes in this one, and also the sex scenes are very steamy (recall that my nieces are 13 and 14). I did find all the male growling during sex to be off-putting, but that might just be me. I also find it interesting that beautiful girls fall in love with "beasts" yet somehow that trope does not seem to work the other way around. Imagine a story where a handsome boy falls in love with a "beast" girl. Yup, that's what I thought.

I can see why my nieces love this series, Feyre (the young woman) has a strong will and agency, there's lots of action, both out of and under the sheets, and the plot pulls you along to an ending that was interesting, though not unexpected for this older reader. I won't be continuing with this series, but am enjoying the discussion with my nieces, and that's really my primary goal anyway. Rating: 2 stars.

56. Why We March: Signs of Protest and Hope
This is photo album that showcases 300 creative signs from around the world carried during the Women's March of January 2017. I liked it for what it was, and it was interesting to see some of the more interesting signage people created, plus all those pink pussy hats are a delight. However, I would have liked to read about the history of the march and what the organizers hoped to achieve with some contextual essays interwoven among the pictures. It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case I think the addition of words would have made this a more powerful book. Rating: 3 stars.

57. Natchez Burning (Penn Cage #4)
This is the fourth book in the Penn Cage series, and the "first installment in an epic trilogy that interweaves crimes, lies, and secrets past and present in a mesmerizing thriller featuring Southern lawyer and former prosecutor Penn Cage."

This is the only book in the series I've read, and while there are hints of stuff that happened in the previous books it was not an issue in my reading of this one. This is a chunkser at almost 800 pages, and I listened to the audiobook (about 36 hours) which was well narrated by David Ledoux.

The story is set in Natchez, Mississippi, and unfolds with a first person narrative by Penn Cage, and with third person point of views from multiple characters, who are all connected to Penn in some way. There are various threads that all get woven together. There are bloody and brutal crimes that happen during the 1960s that were not unusual for that time and place. These events though have unexpected reverberations into the current time, when Penn's upstanding and much beloved father is accused of murder. The Double Eagles (a vicious KKK group) is at the heart of crimes in both the past and present. Throw in assassination conspiracy theories, racially motivated atrocities, greed and corruption at the highest levels, and you've got yourself a heck of a ride.

I really liked the setting of this story and links between Jim Crow and present day Natchez. While some things have changed, much is as it has always been. I found the male characters well fleshed out, but was disappointed with the how the women in this story were written, as there was not much depth to them at all. I really liked the plot device of tying a present day crime to ones almost 40 years old, and the exploration of race, violence, and the lived experiences of the people of this town.

I did not like the amount of repetition in this novel. Penn experiences something, then we have to rehash it as the other characters chime in with their third person perspective of the same thing as he tells them about it. This happened all the time, and while one could skim those sections while reading in print/ebook format, an audiobook does not work as well for skimming, and it got really annoying. Another thing that didn't work for me were the actions taken by the key players in this story, many of which simply made no sense at all. Seriously, no sane person comes up with plans like these, and I'm talking about the "good guys" here. Also, how is it that basic genetics seem to be beyond these highly educated people? Sigh.

Now, I know that this was re-marketed as the beginning of a trilogy, but this story could very easily have been satisfactorily wrapped up in one book. Instead, things get dragged out unnecessarily and the ending reads like the author suddenly ran out of ink in his pen. I played back the last several minutes a couple of times to make sure I hadn't missed something. What the heck?!

Overall I really liked the sense of place and the themes explored, but I simply could not get past the things that annoyed me to give this a higher rating. The author writes well, and this would have been a better read with tighter editing. Will I read the next book? Maybe. But I'll not be doing the audiobook, as I expect I'll need to skim some. Rating: 3 stars.

June 1, 2017

Cinemascope: Hasan Minhaj - Homecoming King

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

Released in 2017.

Plot line: In his first stand-up special, Hasan Minhaj weaves humorous and heartbreaking anecdotes to tell his life story as an Indian-American Muslim. Topics include racism, bullying and meeting the demanding expectations of his immigrant parents.

Netflix is doing some really fun programming these days. I was in the mood for something light to watch, and while I smiled, there are serious topics covered here. Exactly what I was looking for. "Once you go brown, you gotta lock it down," indeed.

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

May 29, 2017

Recent Reads

52. Giant Days, Vol. 3
In the third installment of this graphic novel series the first year at university draws to a close. Unlike the previous two volumes, this one didn't work as well for me. Maybe because it felt more like four short stories than a cohesive narrative, but my overall feeling about this one was meh, so while the art continues to be cute, colorful and manga-ish, I'm not sure I'll be continuing on. Though there is that ending.... Rating: 2 stars.

53. The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts
This is a delightful little book with whimsical black and white illustrations and a handful of facts about a bunch of animals. I loved the illustrations, and also learned some things along the way.

Did you know that a group of cockroaches is called an intrusion? Or that the Chinese leather turtle pees through its mouth? Me neither.

Highly recommended for kids of all ages, especially animal lovers, and as an added bonus, this would also double as a fun coloring book. Simply delightful. Rating: 4 stars.

54. Little White Duck : A Childhood in China
2.5 stars.

This graphic memoir is a collection of eight short stories based on the author's childhood in 1970s China. This book is targeted for middle school readers, and it's a good introduction to some Chinese culture and history. The stories center around Na Liu and her younger sister, and as if often the case in all cultures, much of what is going on in the adult world makes little sense to the young. I especially liked the way class is explored in the title story, however the book lacked enough cohesiveness and depth for this adult reader. I liked the art enough to round up. Rating: 3 stars.

May 25, 2017

Cinemascope: Manchester by the Sea

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

Image result for manchester by the sea

Released in 2016.

Plot line: After the death of his older brother Joe, Lee Chandler is shocked that Joe has made him sole guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick. Taking leave of his job as a janitor in Boston, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the fishing village where his working-class family has lived for generations. There, he is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife, Randi, and the community where he was born and raised.

I tend not to love buzzy movies, but this one is worth the hype. It's a quiet family drama, and it's really well done. I'm not a fan of Casey Affleck, so no-one is more surprised than me that I really liked this one. I did not however think that any of the acting in this movie was worth an Oscar nomination, so is it possible to have a great movie without stellar performances? I think this movie says it's possible. Really enjoyed it, and especially loved the ending. Sometimes broken people cannot be fixed.

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

May 22, 2017

Recent Reads

49. Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders #1)
This is the first book in the Liveship Traders Trilogy, which is in turn the second trilogy in the Realm of the Elderings series. I'd been so looking forward to reading this one, and am rather disappointed that I didn't love it more.

I tried the audiobook, but the breathless narrator didn't work for me at all, and I couldn't imagine 35 or so hours of that, so pulled up my ebook and settled in for a nice long read. This is an adult fantasy series, so I was not surprised at its length, but I was surprised by how long it took me to complete. How can that be, when the majority of the story takes place aboard ships?

Unlike the Farseer Trilogy, this book is told in the third person from multiple points of view, which is not my fave way of telling a story. There are various groups of people in this yarn: There are the Bingtown traders who have these cool ships called liveships, so called because they come to life after a member of three consecutive generations of a family has died on their decks. There are pirates. Then there are these mysterious folk from the Rain Wilds.

Let's start with the plus side: Themes of family, love, loyalty, religion, slavery, feminism, etc. are explored in an interesting manner. I really liked the ship sections, really liked Althea Vestrit, for what woman has not felt betrayed at some point simply because of her gender? And I really liked that all the women in this story were complex, multidimensional characters. I also liked the pirate. He's got a dream. What's not to like about that? Rather than list characters, I'll sum up by saying that the character development (human and otherwise) in this book is really good. You feel like you know these people as the story unfolds. That's the primary strength of this book in my opinion.

Where it falls flat is that entire sections of the book have nothing happening. I need more action in my fantasy reads, and while this one certainly had brilliant bursts, the pacing didn't work for me. Another issue I had was with the world building. Some cool stuff, but too much is put off, hinted at, deferred for later, and at almost 750 pages, I did expect more of a reveal. This door stop of a book could also have used some tighter editing, especially seeing as the next two in this trilogy are chunksters as well, and if you aren't a sailor or into ship stories, much of this book probably won't resonate with you.

Reading this got me excited for sailing season to start, sans sea serpents naturally, and I liked it well enough that I'll read the next book to see how the story unfolds. Rating: 3 stars.

50. Giant Days, Vol. 2
I needed something fun and light, and that is exactly what I got with this second installment of this teen graphic novel series. In this volume, the characters are still in their first semester at university, and academics has to take a backseat when one is dealing with crushes, unrequited or otherwise, finding clothing for a ball, and dealing with old rivals. One can only hope that they pass their exams. A quick fun romp of a read. Rating: 3 stars.

51. Milk and Honey
Book blurb: milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity.

I had an English teacher who leeched all the joy and love out of poems, and I've never quite recovered. I dip my toes in every now and then, but honestly I'm not sure whether it's the poems or me, so I opened this little book with some trepidation.

I inhaled the collection, and then turned back to the first page and read it a bit slower as I recorded some of the poems in my journal. I didn't love them all, but the searing honesty of these little pieces took my breath away. These are really short pieces for the most part, and the little sketches are a lovely touch. I also really liked that while it dives deeply into dark places, there is also light and love added to the mix.

I have no idea how to rate poetry so this is my best attempt at a rating. Give it a try and see if you feel the same way. Rating: 4 stars.

May 17, 2017

Cinemascope: A Single Man

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

Related image

Released in 2009.

Plot line: A Single Man is based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood. Set in Los Angeles in 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, it is the story of a British college professor (Colin Firth) who is struggling to find meaning to his life after the death of his long time partner. The story is a romantic tale of love interrupted, the isolation that is an inherent part of the human condition, and, ultimately, the importance of the seemingly smaller moments in life.

I read and loved the book last year, so was looking forward to watching the movie. It's beautifully done, and Colin Firth is superb in this role. A wonderful exploration of the human condition.

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

May 15, 2017

Recent Reads

46. Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
“The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.”

This essay/manifesto is a quick, yet thought provoking read. The premise of this slim volume is that a friend asked Adichie advice on how to raise a feminist daughter, and this letter was her response.

As a feminist and an Adichie fangirl I knew I'd like this one. It would be an excellent primer for parents of all genders, and a good refresher for everyone else, however, there wasn't much new in here for me. Adichie does what she does best, which is put into simple, easy to understand language concepts that many shy away from, and for that alone this is worth a read. Rating: 3 stars.

47. Today Will Be Different
After reading several books that addressed tough subject matter I was in the mood for something lighter, and this seemed like just the ticket. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me. I liked the premise of the story, and the start was promising, but after 66 pages I find myself bored with all that upper-middle-class-white American angst. I do appreciate that the narrator makes fun of just that, but there just isn't enough depth in this story to keep my interest. So onto the DNF pile it goes. Rating: 1 star.

48. The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1)
Sailing season is almost upon us, so continued my seasonal tradition of picking up a King book. I listened to the audiobook which is superbly narrated by George Guidall.

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

This is the first book in The Dark Tower series, considered to be King's magnum opus, and that first line is essentially the plot of the entire book. Unlike most other King books I didn't love this one immediately, and there are entire sequences that felt dream like - hazy and out of focus. It read like a mash up of an old school Western, fantasy, and a contemporary Dystopian story, and I'm just not sure how I feel about it. There are sections I loved, and others that had me scratching my head. The writing and dialogue is also inconsistent through this one, but as it's one of his shorter books, I got through it pretty quickly.

I have the next couple of books on audio, but am unsure if I should continue. For those who did, should I bother? Rating: 3 stars.

May 12, 2017

Dear Book Club: It’s You, Not Me

If you are currently in a book club, or have ever been, I'd highly recommend reading this article in the New York Times. I'd actually suggest having the book club members read it and then discuss, but first check all sharp objects at the door.

May 9, 2017

Journal pages

I love the illustrations in books for kids. I didn't grow up reading the Raggedy Andy books, but the art is delightful.

May 8, 2017

Recent Reads

43. I Killed Adolf Hitler
What if we lived in a world where it was legal to hire assassins to kill people who annoy us? Dysfunctional family members, annoying co-workers, that person who cut you off on the highway, a loud neighbor, oh, that neighbor who does not use a pooper scooper after their dog .... the list would be endless, and it is rather fun to contemplate. Suddenly minor annoyances can be looked at in a different light, and part of what this fun graphic novel does is explore the pettiness of humans. But wait, someone invents a time machine, and an assassin is hired to go back in time and kill Hitler. Things do not go as planned, and following along as the plot unfolds is a fun thought experiment. The art is classic Jason, colorful and anthropomorphic. A quick, fun read. Rating: 3 stars.

44. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America
Book blurb: A masterly work of literary journalism about a senseless murder, a relentless detective, and the great plague of homicide in America.

I listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Rebecca Lowman.

Journalism is dead. We've all heard that lament over the past several decades, and it is certainly true when it come to mainstream media, particularly TV, but Jill Leovy is here to remind us that there are still journalists doing the heavy lifting, if only we would look away from the Kardashians for a hot minute, and give them the attention they deserve.

One day a young black man is shot and killed on the streets of South Los Angeles. It'd be one thing if this was an isolated incident, one rare enough to make the news, but it isn't that. This kid (and make no mistake he's a kid) is just one of hundreds of young black men killed in LA every year, and I assure you if that was happening in your neighborhood there'd be a media frenzy. So why isn't there more coverage of these murders? Why are the majority of killers never arrested? Does it really not matter when it's young black men dying? Does anyone care? This narrative non-fiction work takes on these questions head on.

This is the true story of one crime among many, a portrait of the victims, their families, the communities, and the detectives who are all linked together in this tragedy. I learned a lot, and was both angered and heart sick by what I learned. Can you even imagine living a life where you don't know if the young men in your family will live to the ripe old age of 21? We are not talking about a war zone in a different country, but when medics are sent to South LA hospitals for training before being shipped out to war zones there is something really wrong here at home. The litany of the dead men over such a short period is hard to read about, and there were entire sections I was in tears.

I did not enjoy a single moment of this book, but it might well the most important book I read all year. Add this one to the list of required reading for all Americans. Highly recommended. Rating: 5 stars.

45. Difficult Women
I am trying to read more short stories and I love this author, so picked this one up knowing that it was going to be a tough read. I had no idea just how tough it was going to be though.

These stories should put to bed all that "likable women" chatter. There is not a likable woman in these stories, and who really cares? Not me. Every single story was a gut punch, and I had to pace out my reading of this collection as the stories do a deep dive into really dark places. I needed trees, sunlight and lots of hugs while reading this book. I can't say that this was an enjoyable reading experience, but it was a compelling read, and I went through the entire range of emotions during the process.

One of my complaints about short stories is that just when I settle in, they end and leave me wanting more. This collection was the first time I experienced a sense of completeness when a story ended. The writing is really good, and the unflinching look at these women and their experiences takes one's breath away. As with any collection, there are some stories I did not love as much as others, but this is collection worth reading.

P.S. I have yet to read An Untamed State, and based on this collection, my reluctance to pick it up is well founded. Rating: 4 stars.

May 6, 2017

Journal pages

Been ages since I played in my journal. No time like the present to begin again.

May 4, 2017

Cinemascope: 13 Reasons Why

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

Image result for 13 reasons why

Released in 2017.

Plot line: Newcomer Katherine Langford plays the role of Hannah, a young woman who takes her own life. Two weeks after her tragic death, a classmate named Clay finds a mysterious box on his porch. Inside the box are recordings made by Hannah -- on whom Clay had a crush -- in which she explains the 13 reasons why she chose to commit suicide. If Clay decides to listen to the recordings, he will find out if and how he made the list. This intricate and heart-wrenching tale is told through Clay and Hannah's dual narratives.

There's been much hoopla and warnings about this new Netflix show, but I for one am encouraged by the production of shows that address real issues that spark discussions. This show is based on a book of the same name, which I have yet to read, and both the book and show are targeted at a young adult audience. No matter where you fall on all the controversy surrounding this one, watch it before you make up your mind about it. So many adults I've met are talking negatively about it without having seen it. Also for anyone who thinks that they can prevent their kids from watching it, don't be so naive. Watch it with or without your kids, and then talk to them about the themes explored here. Don't preach, talk.

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

May 1, 2017

Recent Reads

40. Nameless
I felt like I read this sci-fi/horror graphic novel without first taking prerequisite classes in mythology, ancient religions, the occult, symbology, etc. so much of it simply went over my head.

There's an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and a team has been assembled to do something about it. There are some interesting plot points, but the how the story spins out in all its gory, and I mean that literally, details left me scratching my head. The art is really great, but this is not one for the uninitiated reader. Rating: 1 star.

41. Weasels
Sometimes the simplest things get in the way of plans for world domination. This fun picture book has cute and lovely art, and getting insight into the minds of weasels is an added bonus. What did you think they did all day? Rating: 3 stars.

42. The Sheriff of Babylon, Volume 1: Bang. Bang. Bang.
Book blurb: Baghdad, 2003. The War on Terror has been raging for two years. Iraq's capital city has been devastated, and without a police force to keep its citizens safe. In an effort to establish some semblance of order in the war-torn city, Florida cop-turned-military consultant Chris Henry has been assigned to train a new group of cadets who will take up the cause of law enforcement. But even those with good intentions are not immune to the chaos found in the post-9/11 Middle East.

Yes, war is hell, but the aftermath is hell too.

This graphic novel series follows several people in the aftermath of the Iraqi war, and it is as dark and awful as one would expect. There is murder mystery at the heart of this story, but what is so fascinating is that everyone has an agenda and you're never really sure who is trustworthy and who isn't. I liked the art, but I was really drawn in by the characters and the plot of this story. It is really violent, so if that is not your jam, then you might want to skip it. However, I do think it's too easy for us Americans to ignore the aftermath of the various wars we've been engaged in, and this comic takes on some of the issues without flinching.

I recommend this one to readers of historical fiction and war stories. Isn't it time that the wars of the past decade or so got more coverage in the bibliophile world? I'll be keeping my eye out for the next installment in the series. Rating: 4 stars.

April 27, 2017

Cinemascope: The Bridge | Bron | Broen (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 2011.

Plot line: When a body is found on the bridge between Denmark and Sweden, right on the border, Danish inspector Martin Rohde and Swedish Saga Norén have to share jurisdiction and work together to find the killer.

Don't mistake this series for the one set on the US/Mexico border. This is the Scandinavian original, so yes there are subtitles, but this is a really great police procedural with the added bonus of not being set in the US. Solving the crime is interesting, but what I really liked about this series is the character study of the main cops. Fascinating.

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

April 24, 2017

Recent Reads

37. The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight, and Gain Health
From page 17: ...nine factors related to nutrition and lifestyle accounted for almost 95% of the risk of a heart attack in men and women in almost every geographic region and in every racial and ethnic group worldwide. These factors were: smoking, cholesterol level, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and psychosocial issues such as emotional stress and depression. In other words, the disease that kills the most people each year worldwide and accounts for the single largest expenditure of healthcare dollars is almost completely preventable just by changing diet and lifestyle in ways described in this book.

If that doesn't make you pick up this book, I don't know what will.

This first third of this book dives deeply into the fields of nutrition, stress management, guided meditations, and exercise. The information conveyed in these sections is clear and easy to understand with scientific studies as backup. These are the sections that I found most useful and in some cases mind blowing.

The second third deals with specific issues: lowering cholesterol, losing weight, lowering blood pressure, preventing and reversing type 2 diabetes, preventing and reversing cardiovascular disease, and preventing and treating prostate and breast cancer. There is really great information here, but there is a ton of repetition, as the solutions have already been outlined in the sections before this one.

The final third covers recipes, cooking and shopping tips. Honestly, this is the part I found least useful, but it would be pertinent information for anyone new to the ideas in this book.

In some ways, Ornish is preaching to the choir with me, but I reinforced ideas I already had formed, learned some new things, and have no doubt that I will re-read sections of this book for the rest of my life. Rating: 4 stars.

38. The Essex Serpent
I love the cover of this book, readers I tend to share similar reading tastes with have raved about this one, and it was long listed for the 2017 Bailey's, so I was really excited to get my hands on a copy. Unfortunately, it did not work for me, and the only reason I did not DNF it was because the writing is lyrical and poetic in sections.

In her GoodReads bio the author states that her "early immersion in old literature and the King James Bible profoundly influenced her writing style." I concur. There are sections that read like paragraphs that Dickens or George Eliot might have penned, and there are certainly biblical overtones, both of which I love, and yet I did not like this book.

The story centers around Cora Seaborne, Will Ransome, and the people in their orbits. She is a wealthy London widow, and their paths cross when Cora moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, where Will is the local vicar. The rumors that the mythical Essex Serpent has returned and is claiming human lives is the thing that this tale spins around. The push and pull of science and religion. Again, sounds intriguing right?

However, the story is told in the third person, and at no point did I know, hence care, about any of these characters. The parts I liked best were the letters that went back and forth between the various characters in the story. I also liked the unusual relationships (don't want to spoil anything so will leave it at that), and I especially appreciated how things ended without going the expected Hollywood route. Still, as mentioned above, it was the writing that kept me reading, and while this story didn't work for me, I will try another book by this author, as there are moments of luminous writing in this one. Rating: 2 stars.

39. Solanin
As I read this manga comic I realized something important about my reading tastes, namely, that while I love coming of age stories, I'm not as enamored by the "new adult" genre/stories. This book is the latter, hence the fact it doesn't get a higher rating is really because of that.

A term I see bandied about by Millennials is "Adutling." I often hear someone say "Adulting is hard." If you agree, this book is for you. Meiko is 24, a recent college grad, and working in a job that she hates. Her boyfriend, Naruo, isn't doing much better, and seems to have moved in with her, as with this part-time job he can't swing rent. The book follows both these characters as they struggle with the dreams they once had juxtaposed against the lives they are living. The black and white art is lovely, there are wonderfully poignant moments, and I liked it well enough. Rating: 3 stars.

April 20, 2017

Cinemascope: The Dressmaker

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

Image result for the dressmaker movie poster

Released in 2015.

Plot line: A glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.

I'm a Kate Winslet fangirl so maybe it's not a surprise that this is on my recommended list. I loved the setting and how the story unfolds and we learn things as the main character does. A very feminist story that I'd recommend for fans of historical fiction, fashion, and movies featuring a strong woman character.

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

April 17, 2017

Recent Reads

34. Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History
Book blurb: Eating one’s own kind is completely natural behavior in thousands of species, including humans. Throughout history we have engaged in cannibalism for reasons of famine, burial rites, and medicinal remedies; it’s been used as a way to terrorize and even a way to show filial piety. Today, the subject of humans consuming one another has been relegated to the realm of horror movies, fiction, and the occasional psychopath, but be forewarned: As climate change progresses and humans see more famine, disease, and overcrowding, biological and cultural constraints may well disappear.

I listened to the audiobook which was well narrated by Tom Perkins.

One of my fave questions to ask at parties (I kid you not): Say you are starving and your survival is at stake. Do you feel differently about eating a person who is already dead, as opposed to killing someone to eat? Try it at your next gathering and report back.

This book hits my sweet spot on so many levels. Most people tend to be really squeamish about the topic, but if you're not a vegetarian, what's all the fuss about? Who decided that we can eat some animals and not others? Besides, if you think that cannibalism is awful, you might want to put it in perspective. Considering the horrid historical accounts of human behavior, eating your fellow Sapiens doesn't really seem all that bad.

This is a fun, informative, and eye opening book, and I learned so many things about the animal kingdom I had no idea about. I'll bet school would be much more interesting if some of these topics were incorporated into the curriculum.

I could talk about some of the specifics, but then that'd spoil all the fun for you. I assure you that it's full of fascinating and juicy tidbits. The author stays away from sensational crime stories, so if you are looking for recipes, look elsewhere, but if you are willing to have "no way!" moments, and are willing to annoy your loved ones by constantly saying "did you know?", move this up your TBR.

This will end up on my best of 2017 reads, and the only reason I docked a star is due to the fact that there are sections, like the final chapters, where the author gets side tracked and wanders off topic. Rating: 4 stars.

35. The South Beach Diet
First read in 2005, then again in 2012. Recently completed a full re-read.

This book changed my life, my health, my understanding of so many things. It was the first time I'd read a book that validated my sense of the notion that Big Pharma prefers us to be sick for many, many years. After all, that's where the money's at. It was the first time I undersrood that I knew what was better for me than my pill-pusher of a PCP, who wanted me to go on cholesterol meds. For how long? For life, she said. Wrong answer! Told her to give me six weeks and if my numbers didn't improve we'd have another discussion.

Changed my diet (and I mean that in the true sense of the word, not as a fad) as outlined in this book, and my number went back to normal. She was shocked, and asked ME how I did it. It's taken me a long time to realize that doctors are trained, and trained well, to help with meds and other high tech interventions, but they actually get very little education about the role nutrition and lifestyle play in preventing most diseases in the first place. All you gotta do is look and see what your health insurance will cover: primarily meds and other expensive interventions. And while I'm all for getting the expensive, maybe life saving interventions when needed, I learned that I needed to take responsibility for the prevention portion of the equation.

This re-read was to motivate and remind me to recommit to being as healthy as I can be for as long as possible.

A note on the meal plans: I no longer use the meal plan or recipes in this book, but use the guidelines to make tasty and nourishing meals that follow the spirit of the plan. Rating: 5 stars.

36. The Arab of the Future 2: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1984-1985: A Graphic Memoir
This graphic memoir picks up where the first volume left off, and the family has now settled in Riad's father's hometown of Homs. The author starts to attend school and tries to fit in, but this is Syria under the dictator Hafez Al-Assad, and with his blond hair the author is often mistaken for a Jew, and is treated in ways that shouldn't surprise anyone.

Being a child in an adult world is bewildering in the best of times, and I love how we get glimpses of moments small and large in young Riad's life, juxtaposed with the politics, religion, and poverty of the environment he now inhabits. His awful teacher reminded me of many nuns of my youth, and with her headscarf, she even looked like my tormentors of old, albeit without the short skirts and high heels. There should be a support group for kids who endured these type of teachers. In some ways this is the ordinary life of an ordinary child, but this particular child is lucky enough to also get exposed to different ways of being in the world. The art style is not one I love, but it gets the point across, and I really like how the colors used evoke the appropriate mood for the various settings in this book.

How often do we really think about how much children are affected in ways large and small by the whims of their parents? This thought provoking memoir does just that. I highly recommend this series, and cannot wait for the next installment. Rating: 4 stars.

April 13, 2017

Cinemascope: Fences

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

Fences (film).png

Released in 2016.

Plot line: Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, the film adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play takes a passionate look at former baseball player Troy Maxson as he fights to provide for those he loves in a world that threatens to push him down.

This movie got Oscar nods this year, and Viola Davis won for her role in it, so I was curious to see if I'd like it. It is fantastic. The acting is superb, the lines hard hitting with not a wasted sentence. Not surprising as this is based on a play of the same name, and I plan on getting my hands on it as well. This is not a fun or entertaining movie, so save this for when you want to watch a realistic slice of life family drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.

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

April 10, 2017

Recent Reads

31. Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals
This book is like following an Instagram user who loves books and food. The author selects texts that talk about food from fifty books (you've either read, or at least heard of them all), and then creates a meal from the text and takes a photo of said meal. The book is a collection of these texts and photographs, and it's quite fun to see how the text is interpreted. I especially enjoyed the little factoids at the end of each text. A note for foodies, recipes are not included.

This little book can be read in one sitting, but I'd suggest taking breaks to eat and nap between readings/viewings. Rating: 3 stars.

32. Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey
This graphic memoir is not labeled as such, but would work really well for kids, especially girls, fourteen and up.

It's the coming of age story about a young Turkish girl who struggles to reconcile her dreams with those her father has for her. Can she be both an engineer and a scuba diver like Jacques Cousteau? It's a delightful tale of family, friendship, and self-discovery, and while it touches on some of the social, political, and religious issues of the day, it does so lightly, and readers not familiar with the backdrop can read up on the events mentioned. When there are so many voices telling you how act, and who to be, how does one have the courage to listen to her inner voice? Can she please everyone she loves without making herself miserable?

I really liked the art, the use of collages, and the fact that unlike most graphic novels, there aren't many rectangular boxes in this one. The whimsical style and light watercolors work really well for this memoir. Like memory itself, there's a bit of disjointedness, but I was rooting for young Ozge the entire time. A lovely, and quite feminist read, that I'll be putting in the hands of my nieces before too long. Rating: 4 stars.

33. Oh She Glows Every Day: Simply Satisfying Plant-Based Recipes to Keep You Glowing from the Inside Out
Over the past decade or so I've been adding more plant-based meals to my diet, and I've dipped in and out of this cookbook several times. I also follow the authors' blog, which has a wonderful variety of meals to try. While I certainly have not tried all the recipes in this book, I can unequivocally say that the author is responsible for the large amounts of kale I consume every week. If you have yet to try The Best Shredded Kale Salad (page 117) and Protein Power Rainbow Quinoa Salad (page 99), start there. Delish. Rating: 4 stars.

March 27, 2017

Recent Reads

28. Wires and Nerve, Volume 1
Let me first say that I have not read any of the Lunar Chronicles books, so I was meeting all the characters in this graphic novel for the first time. It's my understanding that it picks up after the final book in the that young adult series, so I figured it'd be a good place for me to start to see if I wanted to try reading any of the original series. I liked the art, and the there were some fun moments, but I was not sucked into the story, though if you are already a fan, I can see how it might be more appealing. Rating: 2 stars.

29. How to Breathe Underwater
Book blurb: In story after story, Orringer captures moments when the dark contours of the adult world come sharply into focus: Here are young people abandoned to their own devices, thrust too soon into predicaments of insoluble difficulty, and left to fend for themselves against the wide variety of human trouble.

Short stories are not my jam, but I've challenged myself to read more of them this year. I'd heard glowing reviews of this collection of nine stories, so decided to start here. These are all stories that have young girls or women at the center of the tale, and each and every one of them has a moment where I had to pause and re-read the previous sentence or two. Each story captures a seminal moment in these girls' lives, and the writing wonderfully captures the emotions surrounding these moments.

I'm not going to talk about the premise of each one, as the reveal is partly why these work so well. I spread these nine tales out over a week, and have a distinct sense of each one. As with all collections, I liked some more than others, and my faves were Pilgrims, The Isabel Fish, Care, and Station of the Cross. I docked a star because as usual each story left me wanting more. Just when I settle into a story, it ends, and I have to surface and re-orient myself.

Parents/adults can be so clueless. We often forget how difficult it is for kids to navigate this crazy world, but this collection helps us remember. Rating: 4 stars.

30. Tiger's Curse (The Tiger Saga #1)
I recently asked my nieces and nephews to recommend books they thought I must read. This was the one my fourteen and a half year old niece, Isabella, selected. She loves the entire series, and was so excited for me to read it too.

Let me start by saying that the writing is simply awful, and if not for my niece, this would never have made its way into my hands, and the writing is not the worst thing about it! Can one be racist unintentionally?

Kelsey is a white girl living in Oregon. She's 17, if memory serves, and after a tragedy ends up living with loving and caring foster parents, who don't seem to mind at all that she suddenly decides to take a job that requires her to live at a circus for two weeks, and also while you're at it, why not go all the way across the world to India with a strange man and a Bengal Tiger? See the world! Wherever did she meet this tiger you ask? Why, the above mentioned circus of course. And, yes, it turns out that the tiger is actually an Indian prince who was cursed over 300 years ago. Oh, and it turns out that Kelsey is the chosen one of the Indian Goddess Durga, because you know, there aren't like half a billion Indian girls who could have been picked instead. Aren't we done with the "white person saves darkie" trope yet? Anyway, there are four curses, and Kelsey and her tiger/prince have to figure out how to solve them. This book has an Indiana Jones type of sequence, as the duo try to crack the first curse. Oh, and yes, there is the requisite love triangle and teen angst, not to mention that these guys, while they look 21 are really around 350 years old. But then again, Vampires have been doing this very thing for millennia, and now that I think about it, this certainly has shades of Twilight.

After reading the above, you might be wondering why the generous two stars. Yes, the plot is ridiculous, the writing bad, the characters not well fleshed out, the dialogue stilted and so dang cliched, but this story also has hot Indian dudes, is set in India, and has Indian mythology, albeit watered down, but still. In a world where my Indian American niece does not often see or read about hot Indian guys, let along girls, I can see why she loves this series.

Everything about this story didn't work for me. The other books solve the remaining curses, but needless to say, I simply don't care enough to continue with the series. Rating: 2 stars.

March 26, 2017

Journal pages

Creative mess on my desk as I prepare my travelersnotebook for a trip next week.

March 24, 2017

Journal pages

A lovely way to welcome the weekend. Owls inspired by @majasbok.

March 23, 2017

Cinemascope: Royal Wives At War

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

Image result for royal wives at war

Released in 2016.

Plot line: The Queen Mother and Wallis Simpson look back at the dramatic events of 1936, which led to King Edward Vlll giving up the throne for the woman he loved.

This BBC docudrama is so fun and informative. I recommend this ones for people who enjoy period pieces, love getting an inside look into the British monarchy, or are fascinated by the events covered in this movie.

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

March 20, 2017

Recent Reads

25. Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy (Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy series, Book 1)
This cute graphic novel for kids is really a prescription for healthy relationships. Laser Moose is always on the lookout for danger, and sometimes jumps the gun and uses his laser eyes indiscriminately. Not to fear though, as his BFF Rabbit Boy is cheerfully optimistic and balances out this evil fighting duo as they take on aliens, and other evil mutant/cyborg/mechanical beings. This short story collection is funny, and the art is cute and colorful. Perfect for readers of all ages who need a feel good read. Rating: 3 stars.

26. His Bloody Project
Book blurb: A brutal triple murder in a remote farming community in northwestern Scotland in 1869 leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There's no question that Macrae is guilty, but the police and courts must uncover what drove him to murder the local village constable.

I'm not really a reader of crime fiction, so I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this one, but I found myself quickly engrossed in this crime drama. Unlike your typical crime story, the question is not who dunnit, or even why, but an exploration of the societal, cultural, and religious backdrop of the community where this crime occurs.

The story unfolds via documents "discovered" by the author and include the accused's memoir, trial transcripts, and newspaper reports. The story starts with police statements taken from people in the Culdie, who give conflicting impressions of the accused, so what's the truth? As the story unfolds, I found myself getting enraged, and thinking that certain people might indeed be better off dead. Then we get to trial, and certain facts shed a different light on things. I really enjoyed the themes this story explored, especially the look at class structures in Scotland, circa 1869. It really is quite well done, and I ripped through it in a couple of days.

I listened to the audiobook, which is superbly narrated by Antony Ferguson. His accent and performance perfectly set the mood for this dark tale. Rating: 4 stars.

27. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay
I'm a Harry Potter fan, but sometimes I think it's a mistake to not let things lie as they are, and try to eke more out of a fantastic series. Case in point is this book, which is the authors' screenwriting debut. The book itself is lovely to hold, and I enjoyed the illustrations, but overall I didn't enjoy this. There are hints of her writing chops, but I think one would be better off simply watching the movie, which I intend to do. However, is you are a Pottermore fan, I guess you'd have to read this too. Rating: 2 stars.

March 16, 2017

Cinemascope: American Crime (Season 2)

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

Image result for american crime season 2 show poster

Released in 2016.

Plot line: When shocking photos of high-school student Taylor Blaine show up on social media after a party, the boy accuses two basketball players from the elite private school of posting the pictures after drugging and assaulting him. Taylor and his mother stand as the school's wealthy families attack them while the school's headmistress fights to maintain the school's reputation. At the same time, Taylor's girlfriend faces issues of racial tension at her own school, and while the two institutions are widely different in status, the lives of students and teachers at both become entangled.

Right after I finished the first season I started this one. This series continues to blow me away with the themes explored. I love the idea that this series uses a stable of actors and each season everyone plays a different role. It's interesting that I felt a certain way about a characters' behavior in the first season, and then felt very differently when similar behavior was shown by a different character. This made me examine my prejudices and snap judgments, but I can't talk about the things that moved me, made me angry, or made me think without spoilers, so all I'll say is that I need a discussion group to talk about this show.

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

March 13, 2017

Recent Reads

22. Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag
I haven't had children so skipped all those books about what to expect when you're expecting, but the title of this book is what hooked me. Nine long months spent in drag? Tell me more.

This graphic memoir recounts the authors' experiences as she navigated this heavily trodden path as a not just a queer woman, but a butch one at that. There is humor and aggravations galore, but it all turns out well in the end. The art is good and I especially enjoyed the nod to Tintin. This is a fun and informative look at her experience, and the intersection of gender and pregnancy. Rating: 4 stars.

23. Descender, Volume Three: Singularities
This graphic novel series explores a universe in which all androids have been outlawed, and bounty hunters are rounding up all the remaining ones. This war between humans and machines unfolds from multiple points of view.

I'm up and down with this series. I liked this installment better than the last one, so that's good. This one is all about back stories. We get a deeper dive into each of the characters stories and I liked that, as it helps to better explain what's currently going on in the story. My fave back story was the one with Driller, though I continue to have a soft spot for Tim-21. The art continues to be lovely with loose watercolor washes, and I hope the writing gets better in future installments. Rating: 3 stars.

24. 750 Years in Paris
This lovely graphic novel is an almost wordless picture book. The unfolding of 750 years of history plays out against the back drop of a single building in France. In each illustration changes are made, and part of the delight of this book is figuring out what has changed with the building and building materials, but also what are people wearing, how are they getting around, and who are those people in the upper windows.

I recommend reading it as I did with a finger bookmarking the page in the back, which briefly describes significant dates in history, so as to easily be able to flip back and forth between the two. As you flip the pages one appreciates the grand scale of time, the transitory nature of cultural upheavals, and the insignificance of any one individual life.

Highly recommended for fans of nontraditional graphic novels. Rating: 4 stars.

March 9, 2017

Cinemascope: American Crime (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 american crime

Released in 2015.

Plot line: The first season of this anthology crime drama focuses on the aftermath and investigation of the murder of a veteran, Matt Skokie, and brutal assault of his wife, Gwen. The story centers around the impact of the event on the victims' families, as well as the suspects and their loved ones. Matt's parents, Barb (Felicity Huffman) and her estranged ex-husband Russ (Timothy Hutton), struggle to cope with their son's death while relentlessly seeking to bring his killer to justice. They also clash with Gwen's parents, Tom and Eve, as they endure the legal investigation and discover dark secrets about their children along the way. The narrative also follows the lives of the various suspects and examines the racial tensions that are prevalent within the legal system.

Somehow I didn't hear about this series until the second season was already done, and I'm so glad I stumbled across it. In my opinion, this is one the best shows I've ever seen that looks at race, class, gender, relationships, and the judicial system without holding any punches. This show has a wonderful ensemble cast and really good writing that tackle these themes head on. I loved how I felt one thing going into the show, and then changed how I felt about things as the show proceeded. I need a discussion group to talk about all my feelings about this show.

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

March 6, 2017

Recent Reads

19. Trees, Vol. 1: In Shadow
" Ten years since we learned that there is intelligent life in the universe, but that they did not recognize us as intelligent or alive."

I was interested by the premise of this graphic novel series, and that is what drew me in. Ten years ago aliens landed, but these are not aliens like we expect, but tall, solid towers, that look like trees (hence the title), and they do nothing other than excrete waste from time to time. But something seems to be happening ....

While we wait for something interesting to happen with the aliens, we spent time getting to know a few characters in three locations around the globe: China, Italy and the Arctic. The Chinese angle and the exploration of sexuality and gender was the most interesting of the three to me, but there are sections that are rather preachy for my tastes. In Italy, a woman meets a strange man, and then decides to change her life circumstances, while in Svalbard, there are these strange flowers growing around the trees, and scientists are at a loss to figure out what it all means.

While the idea is interesting, I didn't much like the execution of this one. I didn't get sucked into any of the story lines, and I didn't love the art either. Even though I have the second volume in hand, I'm not interested enough to continue with this series. Not for me. Rating: 2 stars.

20. And Then There Were None
I listened to the audiobook, which is well narrated by Dan Stevens.

This was my book club selection for the month, and Agatha Christie does not disappoint. This was first published in 1939, and is as thrilling and wonderful (dare I say even better?) than any of the books in the genre being published today.

This standalone murder mystery with the locked room trope happens on an island. Ten strangers are invited for island vacation, and discovering how the story unfolds is part of what makes this fun, so I'll say no more. Read it. Then watch the 2015 mini-series of the same name. Chillingly delightful. Rating: 4 stars.

21. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
I have only read one book by the author to date, and really disliked it. That book, in case you are wondering, is Dawn. It's not that I don't like sci-fi/fantasy, it's that when I read a book I expect to either learn something, or be entertained, so don't get me started on my issues with tentacles in Dawn. That experience did not encourage me to read any more of her books, and it's a shame as so many people think she's one of the sci-fi greats.

When I saw this graphic novel adaptation of one of her more recommended books I decided to dip my toes back into the water. Imagine my delight when I found myself swept away in this tale. The story centers around Dana, a young black woman who suddenly time travels between her home in 1970s California and the pre-Civil War South.

I'm usually annoyed by time travel tales where a woman goes back in time, and happily decides to stay. This book wonderfully and painfully explores the perils of going back those so called halcyon days of old. Some of the themes explored include race, gender, slavery, and ancestry, and I love that the author does not shy away really looking at the multiple facets of these complicated constructs. I also really liked the art style and color used in this one.

I plan to pick up the novel, and will keep my fingers crossed that it works as well in prose form. Rating: 4 stars.

March 2, 2017

Cinemascope: The OA (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 the oa images

Released in 2016.

Plot line: In addition to her role as creator and executive producer of this mind-bending series, Brit Marling also plays the role Prairie Johnson, a young woman who returns home after a 7-year disappearance. Her sudden return is not the only miraculous occurrence: everyone is shocked to learn that Prairie is no longer blind. While the FBI and her parents are anxious to discuss Prairie's disappearance, she won't talk about what happened during the time that she was missing.

This is a strange, eerie, and disturbing show that sucked me in slowly, and then wouldn't let go. I think the less you know going in the better, so enjoy.

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

March 1, 2017

Journal page

How is it already March? I cannot wrap my head around it. Due to one reason or another I haven't been playing with my art supplies much lately. Here's a page from a late night session using a student box of Prang watercolors.

Not particularly my style, but why not try something different?

February 27, 2017

Recent Reads

16. Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride
Let me first start by stating that I do not think that getting married means you've won the golden ring, or that you needed to be be coupled in any manner to be worthy of respect or value. I do personally know women who had a crisis because they were not married by thirty, and dang it, but forty was the absolute latest this sorry state would be allowed to continue until something drastic would be done. Not my jam, but to each their own.

This graphic memoir explores the trails, tribulations, expectations, stereotypes, and joys of being a bride and deciding to have a DIY wedding. The author has clearly matured in her storytelling skills, and in this book dives more deeply into the themes explored. However, she still seems to shy away from taking deep dives, which leaves me, the reader, wanting more. I have to keep reminding myself that she is brave for putting as much of herself out there as she's currently comfortable doing. There are humorous and poignant moments in this story, and I appreciated her resistance to many of the cultural/religious/societal/capitalist norms, but it's her day, and she can have it any way she dang well chooses. The illustrations are typical of her signature style, and are colorful and cute.

At 300 pages this is a long time to spend with the author and her wedding planning, yet I do think that she bucks the mainstream commercialism surrounding weddings and for that I'll round up my 3.5 rating. Rating: 4 stars.

17. The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction
I listened to the audiobook which is wonderfully narrated by Neil himself.

This is a collection of essays, introductions, speeches, and reviews about a diverse range of topics, including authors (dead and alive), music, the power of stories, comics, fairy tales, and pretty much anything else that the author is interested in. As with any collected works, there are pieces I loved and others I did not. I'd highly recommend the first hundred or so pages, where he talks about his love of literature, stories, libraries and librarians, and his childhood influences. I loved this section, and that alone deserved five stars. The rest were more of a hit or miss depending on whether I knew or cared about the authors/artists/books/music discussed. Still, a must read for Neil fans. I dipped in and out this collection over a couple of weeks, and that felt like the perfect way to experience this one. Rating: 3 stars.

18. The One Hundred Nights of Hero
I really liked her first graphic novel, so was looking forward to the publication of this one. It's a beautiful book - the actual book I mean - and the story itself is an Arabian Nights type saga. While I didn't love every one of the stories, I was delighted by the feminist take of these strange fairy tales. The art is folksy and sketchy with wonderful use of color. This is an ode to stories and storytellers, especially women. Delightful. Rating: 4 stars.

February 23, 2017

Cinemascope: The Crown (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 the crown

Released in 2016.

Plot line: Based on an award-winning play ("The Audience") by showrunner Peter Morgan, this lavish, Netflix-original drama chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) from the 1940s to modern times. The series begins with an inside look at the early reign of the queen, who ascended the throne at age 25 after the death of her father, King George VI. As the decades pass, personal intrigues, romances, and political rivalries are revealed that played a big role in events that shaped the later years of the 20th century.

I love everything about this show. A triumph of duty and tradition. How can one not respect QE2? I wonder how much is based on actual events, because other than Elizabeth, I feel like hitting everyone on the head with a saucepan! If you are a fan of luscious period pieces, you'll love this too.

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

February 20, 2017

Recent Reads

13. The Seventh Plague (Sigma Force #12)
Book blurb: If the biblical plagues of Egypt truly happened - could they happen again - on a global scale?

At 35.0%: The intersection of science, religion, history and conspiracy is absolutely my sweet spot. If only the writing were better ....

I read some of the earlier Sigma Force books and enjoyed them. Did not love them, but they were fun airport or beach reads. Well, as I was neither flying nor on a beach, this one, the 12th in the series, did not fare as well. I hadn't read past the first handful of books in this series, and it didn't really matter for this one. The premise is fascinating, but the writing is really bad, the characters boring, and oh the cliches! The bad guys are really bad, and the good guys really good, the women all needed saving by some dude .... I'll stop there. The only reason I added a star is because I was intrigued by some of the new theories explored. I do not plan on picking up another Sigma Force book in the future. Over and out. Rating: 2 stars.

14. Irmina
I actually think the less you know going into this graphic novel the better, so I'll keep my comments to a minimum.

The author finds a cache of letters and journals that her Grandmother kept, and creates a fictionalized biography based on that material. The story unfolds over three sections, and the major action occurs in the mid-1930s in London and Germany. The art while not as polished and finished as some, wonderfully evokes the right mood for each of the sections.

I am always fascinated to read stories told from the German point of view, and while it is easy to judge others harshly, until we walk in their shoes we don't really know how we might act. Especially if our options are limited, and one is a woman. After all, would your late teen/early twenty year old self even begin to comprehend the person you are today?

This graphic novel explores the tension between integrity and social advancement, and is rather pertinent to our times. Rating: 4 stars.

15. I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies #1)
Book blurb: They caught Number One in Malaysia. Number Two in England. And Number Three in Kenya. They killed them all. I am Number Four. I am next.

I recently asked my nieces and nephews to recommend books they thought I must read. This was Luke's selection. He's 14 and loves the entire series, and is delighted when a new installment is released.

See that blurb above? That's the style of writing throughout this book. Simple, plain, and so pedestrian it might have been written by a computer, though that might be an insult to computers. I'm always leery of book with multiple authors, and this one has two; the author name is made up and "he" leaves notes for the reader in the book.

What's it about you ask? Well, there are these aliens who fled their planet's destruction and landed on Earth. This all happened about nine years ago. Unfortunately, the bad aliens who killed everyone and destroyed their planet are now also on Earth, or might have been for a long while, and are out to kill each of the nine. Because they are special and might one day exact revenge. Fortunately, our boy, Four, and the rest of the good aliens look human, only are much stronger, faster, etc. and as they hit puberty there are more goodies in store. Will Four survive long enough to even have a first date?

There are so many things wrong with this book that I'm not even sure where to start. Maybe with the aforementioned bad writing. So bad. You'd be lucky to get away with a D in high school with this schlock. The characters are ridiculous and are not fleshed out at all. Every scene is a cliche, and I mean every single scene. Why make the aliens look human? Well, because then we can have a sappy love triangle, that's why. Ugh. You know you're in trouble when your fave character is a dog, and he has more personality than all the aliens/humans combined.

On the plus side, it's all plot and action and reads so fast that I was done before I could DNF it. My library copy of this book (you surely did not think that I bought this did you?), had a Guys Reads sticker on it, so I guess it is written to encourage guys to read, something I'm all in favor of, but if not for my nephew, this is not one I would have picked up, as I am surely not the target audience. I can see why Luke loves it though, and boys, and maybe even girls, around that age might love it too.

Do I need to mention that I will not be continuing with the series? Rating: 2 stars.

February 16, 2017

Cinemascope: The Fall (Season 3)

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

Image result for the fall season 3

Released in 2016.

Plot line: The Fall is a crime drama that follows an investigation into a series of murders involving young business women in Belfast, Ireland. Superintendent Stella Gibson has Spector under arrest, however, its uncertain whether he will survive or not to face justice for his crimes. Meanwhile, Spector's family have to deal with the consequences of his arrest and evidence emerges that there could be more of Spector's victims than Superintendent Stella Gibson first realised.

This will not be a show for everyone, but I really enjoyed the themes explored in this final season. It is character driven, and there are so many things to ponder about the aftermath of a crime.

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

February 13, 2017

Recent Reads

10. Queer: A Graphic History
Book blurb: From identity politics and gender roles to privilege and exclusion, Queer explores how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do; how these ideas get tangled up with our culture and our understanding of biology, psychology and sexology; and how these views have been disputed and challenged.

I was at a gathering recently where people were asked to introduce themselves, and identify which pronouns they prefer. Huh? There are times I feel so dang old. Sigh.

This nonfiction graphic novel is a historical overview of queer theory. There were things I knew, much I did not, much I learned, and though I'm not sure I understood everything being covered, this is one I will certainly be reading again. Lots to ponder and highly recommended. Rating: 4 stars.

11. My Brilliant Friend (L'amica geniale #1)
This book is translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, and I listened to the audiobook, which is really well narrated by Hillary Huber.

The hype surrounding this book and the entire quartet made me uneasy. I tend not to like books that are really buzzy, plus several friends did not have positive things to say about it. Since I'm trying to read more translated works in 2017, I decided to give it a try, and I'm so very glad I did.

The story is set in the 1950s, in a poor neighborhood outside Naples, and revolves around two young girls, Elena and Lila. The story is told entirely from Elena's point of view. This is a coming of age story, and is rather wonderfully spun. It's not unusual to get close up looks at the lives of boys, but it's rarer to get those types of stories about girls. This story is not plot driven, but is a delightful character study, so if you are looking for a fast paced plot, this one's not for you.

The story explores the friendship between two young girls, and the challenges their friendship faces as they grow up and take different paths through life. This quite feminist story explores the lives, choices, and agency or lack-there-of available to girls and women in this community, and asks us to look at how those play out in our lives as well. I love these girls, and completely related to their push-me-pull-you friendship. My heart ached at certain points, especially when certain paths were closed off to them because of circumstances outside their control. It's generally understood that parents want a better life for their children than they had, but what sorrows and heart break await those parents when their children become unrecognizable to them and their old way of life? Children have dreams of their own, but how do they cope when those pursuits change them so that they no longer fit in with their families or communities?

This story clearly resonated for me, and I really enjoyed this journey. I docked a star, because I felt that there were plot points that did not add to the story, but maybe I'll find they are there for a reason when I get to the next book in the series. Rating: 4 stars.

12. How to Survive in the North
When we make poor choices, does it help to know that others have done the same with much more catastrophic results?

This graphic novel combines three narratives, two historical and one fictional, of people making bad decisions. The historical ones are both Arctic explorations, namely Vilhjalmur Stefansson's 1912 and 1926 expeditions. The 2013 fictional one is the story of a professor caught having an affair with a student. Things do not go well in any of the narratives, and it's interesting to see the links between the stories unfold. The flat colors of the art evoke the right mood, and help to determine which narrative one is reading, which is useful as we go back and forth between these three stories. A quick and enjoyable read. Rating: 3 stars.