January 30, 2017

Recent Reads

4. The Polar Bear
For some reason Goodreads does not have this listed under the author of The Blue Whale, but it is her. This is the next book in the endangered animals collection picture books for wee ones, and I really liked The Blue Whale so picked this one up.

Just as in the first book, the art in this one is beautiful. The text however, while factual and informative, does not have the flow of Whale. It's almost like the author couldn't decide whether to keep this a picture book, or make it more interesting to older (8-12 years) readers, and in doing so, some of the magic is lost. Still, it's worth getting a copy for little readers to see how they feel. They will certainly learn some cool things about Polar bears with this beautiful book. I certainly did. Rating: 3 stars.

5. Watson and Holmes - A Study In Black
In this retelling Holmes is a P.I., Watson is an Afghanistan war vet, now medical intern, and 221B Baker Street is located in Harlem, New York. I enjoyed the updated version of this duo, and the gritty, urban setting. Holmes sometimes talks in old-timey speak which does not make sense, and is no where as quirky as the original. Watson, though is great. I didn't love the art in this graphic novel, but do plan on reading the next installment to see how the story unfolds. Rating: 3 stars.

6. Silence
Book blurb: Father Rodrigues is an idealistic Portuguese Jesuit priest who, in the 1640s, sets sail for Japan on a determined mission to help the brutally oppressed Japanese Christians and to discover the truth behind unthinkable rumors that his famous teacher Ferreira has renounced his faith.

This is translated from the Japanese by William Johnston.

Since Scorsese is about to release a movie adaptation of this novel, this moved up my TBR pile. I'm a fan of Jesuits in [Insert Sceanrio]. Scenarios include, but are not limited to: Space, Japan, Africa, the Vatican, etc. This book is a Jesuits in Japan story.

If you are new to the history of said scenario, the forward by the translator is well worth the read, and I learned things I did not know. However, while I am fascinated by the premise of the story, I did not love it, and I really expected to. Maybe because I've read several really fantastic books on Japan, and this one while interesting, is not one of them.

The story unfolds via letters written by Father Rodrigues, and there-in lies the main problem with this story. We only get his point of view, and it's not enough. There's this huge gap between what he sees and experiences, and what we the reader get to read. There's quite a bit of repetition, and the writing is choppy (though, that could be the translation). This is a brutal time to be a Christian in Japan, and the horrors are real, but only seen from a distance by this reader. What I really liked was the exploration of the sense of silence, in particular the silence of God in the midst of all the horror. I also really liked the exploration of Christianity in the "swamps" of Japan, and how the Japanese interpreted Christianity. I wanted more of that. More theology, more philosophy, more of the dialogue between Rodrigues and Ferreira. I found these themes the most interesting parts of this story, and because of that I'll round up my 2.5 stars rating to 3.

I'll be curious to see if the movie adaptation explores more with these themes. Meanwhile, if you have yet to read Shogun (which has a side plot with these exact themes), I'd highly recommend moving it up your TBR list. Rating: 3 stars.

January 26, 2017

Cinemascope: Narcos (Season 1)

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

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Released in 2015.

Plot line: Netflix takes on the infamous Medellín drug cartel in "Narcos," which follows the rise and fall of Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Drug Enforcement Agency agents hunting him. The story is told largely from the points of view of Escobar, played by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura, and U.S. DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), on opposite sides of what would become an all-out war. The gritty drama begins with the early days of the drug battle, when the biggest offenders were "hippies in flip-flops" caught with up to a kilo of marijuana, continuing to the violent, bloody battles between members of the cartel peddling tons of kilos of cocaine and drug agents from Colombia, Mexico, and the U.S. -- a struggle estimated to have cost at least 4,000 lives over two decades.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, this might well be the renaissance era of fantastic original content production. I doubt that the networks would have taken the risk on something like this, and they can keep their reality TV shows, I'm looking elsewhere for my entertainment.

This show is fantastic, and does not shy away from some hard truths we would all do well to look clear in the face. I love the writing, the acting, and the themes explored. Seeing so many people of color on the screen was also a plus, and that most of the show is in Spanish with English subtitles? Daringly brilliant. Cannot wait for the next season.

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

January 23, 2017

Recent Reads

1. My Name Is Lucy Barton
This is my first DNF of 2017, and I barely got to the first weekend. Sigh.

There are some authors that simply do not work for me, and I've decided to add this one to that list. This is the fourth book I've read by the author, and I feel the same way about all of them. There are wonderful nuggets of insight about the human experience, and some really lovely writing, but these peaks are surrounded by vast amounts of wasteland. And these are not long books.

I bailed about a third of the way through this one. I've read glowing reviews, but did not feel the same way. As stated above, those little nuggets keep me hoping, but alas, I found the writing and the dialogue awkward and pedestrian. This is a daughter/mother relationship, but I felt as though I was looking in on this relationship from behind bullet proof glass, and they were speaking in a different language. I was bored, so gave up.

Lots of people love it, so don't take my word for it, but I don't plan on reading any of her other works. Rating: 1 star.

2. The Motherless Oven
This is a graphic novel that I just didn't understand. It's a sort of coming of age story in a bizarre setting. In this world, children make their parents, there are no birthdays but deathdays, I can't even continue. I liked the art, but the story itself didn't work for me, probably because those off-the-wall parents. There were some plot points that I enjoyed, but overall, this one left me scratching my head wondering what it is that I missed. This might actually end up with 1 star upon further consideration. Rating: 2 stars.

3. Bleak House
At 1%: This is the second year of my Dickens in December project.
At 10%: Dickens is simply brilliant, and the names of his characters are so fun.
At 25.0%: What a page turner of a read this one is turning out to be.
At 32.0%: Such wit and on point critiques of people and society. Too bad Dickens isn't alive to write about our times.
At 46.0%: Almost at the halfway mark, and it just keeps getting better.
At 55.0%: Distracted by holiday travels, but back in the swing of things, only to find myself delighted by an incidence of spontaneous combustion.
At 75.0%: And now we have a murder mystery thrown into the mix? Oh, Dickens, how I adore thee.

I read some Dickens in school, and while I recall liking them, I think I was more impressed with myself for reading him than his actual writing. So to rectify that, and to get to the rest of his oeuvre, I decided in 2015 to start an annual tradition of 'Dickens in December'. 2016 was year two of the new tradition, and I decided to go with what is widely considered his masterpiece. What with holiday travel, etc. I didn't end up completely the book until early January, but I'm not complaining.

I listened to the audiobook, and was enthralled for the entire 33 hours or so it took to get through this masterpiece. I loved everything about it. The wit, the social and judicial critiques, the character development and their individual voices, the plot, the numerous tangents, the wonderful names of people and places, oh, I could go on and on. This is a classic for a reason, and I don't think I need to summarize the story, for indeed how could I? The wonder of this master craftsman is that whenever he took me on a tangent, I waited with delight to see where we'd end up. In the end you realize that there is a reason for each and every sentence, each scene, and each item that we are shown. There is not a wasted sentence in my opinion, and all those nay-sayers who say he wrote such wordy tomes because he got paid by the word can go suck on a lemon. I wanted more, and would happily have read a book twice this size. I had a severe book hangover when I was done, for who on earth could even hope to keep my interest after Dickens?

A note on the audiobook production. The book was narrated by the wonderful Simon Vance, and his ability to keep the numerous character voices straight is incredible. The narration is superb and only added to my delightful experience. I'd highly recommend the audio version of this one.

I could not put this book down, and when I had to, I found myself thinking about the characters and saying things they would say. It surely is an East Wind I feel now that I have to wait until December to read my next Dickens. Which one will it be? Rating: 5 stars.

January 19, 2017

Cinemascope: Sing Street

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

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Released in 2016.

Plot line: SING STREET takes us back to 1980s Dublin seen through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy named Conor who is looking for a break from a home strained by his parents relationship and money troubles, while trying to adjust to his new inner-city public school where the kids are rough and the teachers are rougher. He finds a glimmer of hope in the mysterious, über-cool and beautiful Raphina, and with the aim of winning her heart he invites her to star in his band's music videos. There's only one problem: he's not part of a band...yet. She agrees, and now Conor must deliver what he's promised - calling himself Cosmo and immersing himself in the vibrant rock music trends of the decade, he forms a band with a few lads, and the group pours their heart into writing lyrics and shooting videos. Inspired by writer/director John Carney's life and love for music, Sing Street shows us a world where music has the power to take us away from the turmoil of everyday life and transform us into something greater.

I hadn't even heard about this movie until it ended up on several best movies of 2016 lists, and I'm so glad I gave it a chance. This coming of age story is simply delightful.

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

January 12, 2017

Cinemascope: The Handmaiden

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

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Released in 2016.

Plot line: A gripping and sensual tale of two women - a young Japanese Lady living on a secluded estate, and a Korean woman who is hired to serve as her new handmaiden, but is secretly plotting with a conman to defraud her of a large inheritance. Inspired by the novel Fingersmith by British author Sarah Waters, The Handmaiden borrows the most dynamic elements of its source material and combines it with Park Chan-wook’s singular vision to create an unforgettable viewing experience.

I hardly ever go to see movies at the theaters. It's not that I can't, it's that by the time I think about seeing something I really want to see, it's already run its course and I have to wait for the DVD to show up at my library. This movie I knew I wanted to see, and I put it on my calendar so I would not miss it at the cinemas. 

There is so much I love about this South Korean adaptation of Fingersmith. If you've read the book, or seen the English adaptation, you know what to expect. If you have not, then sit back and enjoy the ride. The scenes are all beautifully composed, the acting really good, and I was surprised at how explicit the sex scenes were. This is a movie I will watch again on DVD, as I think I missed some of the cinematography because my eyes were busy reading the translated text on the screen.

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

January 9, 2017

Recent Reads

196. Artist's Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures
I dip into this book whenever I'm looking for creative inspiration, and it has not failed me yet. I always find something new to try, and I believe this is my fourth reading of the book. This wonderful book is full of ideas, inspiration, advice, and has lots of colorful examples of fun journal pages. Rating: 4 stars.

197. Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening
I don't even know how to summarize this graphic novel, so will stick to the blurb:

"Set in an alternate world of art deco beauty and steampunk horror, Montress tells the epic story of Maika Halfwolf, a teenage survivor of a cataclysmic war between humans and their hated enemies, the Arcanics. In the face of oppression and terrible danger, Maika is both hunter and hunted, searching for answers about her mysterious past as those who seek to use her remain just one step behind...and all the while, the monster within begins to awaken..."

This might well be the most beautifully illustrated graphic novel I've read in ages. The art alone makes this one worth picking up. But, that's not all you get. This is a wonderfully women/girl/female centric world, and trying to figure out what different groups the main characters belong to is part the fun. This one is certainly more action/plot driven than I'd expect for the first volume. There isn't much world building, and you are left to figure things out at your own pace. And there are things that we just don't know, and I look forward to uncovering those plot lines as this story unfolds. There's also this adorable fox. There so much I loved about this one, and if you are a cat person, you must get this one pronto. Delightful. Violent. Dark. Not for the kiddos. Rating: 4 stars.

198. Velvet, Volume One: Before the Living End
Book blurb: Velvet Templeton is supposed to be just a secretary, the personal assistant to the Director of a top secret Intelligence Agency, but when the world's greatest spy is killed, she quickly finds herself caught in a web of mystery and murder, as her own secret past comes to light.

Rather than review each volume of this graphic novel trilogy individually, I'm going to review it in it's entirety here.

If you are a fan of Jason Bourne and James Bond, and have always wondered why those roles are not cast with a woman, this is the series for you. A fun, fast paced, violent, spy thriller, with a kick ass older woman in the lead role. Yes, you read that correctly, older woman. In a genre where so many of the women are young and perky teenagers (or so it feels to this middle aged woman), it's wonderfully refreshing to see this one cast differently. The story is interesting, the art wonderfully evokes the right noir mood, and Velvet Templeton rocks. The only reason I docked a star, is that I wanted more dialog to flesh out the story better, and some of the men were hard to tell apart. Now, will someone please make this a movie and make my day? Rating: 4 stars.

199. Velvet, Volume Two: The Secret Lives of Dead Men
See my review of this trilogy above. Rating: 4 stars.

200. Velvet, Volume Three: The Man Who Stole the World
See my review of this trilogy above. Rating: 4 stars.

201. Snow White: A Graphic Novel
I'm not sure what I expected when I picked up this graphic novel, but it wasn't what I got. I love the art, and the setting of this classic story in New York City, circa 1928, is a brilliant idea. The plot does not stray far from the Disney adaptation, and the casting of Snow and the seven street urchins was quite fun. There is so little dialog, that this might almost be a wordless picture book, and while the art is wonderful, I found the story itself just OK. So, 4 stars for the art, and 2 for the story, averages out at 3. Rating: 3 stars.

That's the last of my 2016 reads. It's been a good one, and I look forward to 2017.
Happy reading!

January 6, 2017

My Fave Reads of 2016

It's always fun to review what I read in any given year. Here are my fave books of 2016 :


I rated the top two as 5 star reads, and the bottom two received 4 stars.


2016 was a fantastic year for classics. I adore every book on this list, and each got 5 stars. An interesting note is that I listened to each of these on audio, and that seems to be a trend that will continue in the new year.


The Comics genre is exploding, and I'm delighted with the sheer variety of what is available today. I rated the top four as 5 star reads, and the bottom two received 4 stars. The thing to note is that three books in the Ooku series garnered 5 stars, while the rest were 4 star reads.

There are many other 4 star reads from the year, but these are the ones that really stick out for me as I look back over my list. You can read my reviews of these and other books read in 2016 here.

I'd love to hear about your fave books, and if there are titles you think I must read in the new year, please do let me know.

January 5, 2017

Cinemascope: Brokeback Mountian

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

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Released in 2005.

Plot line: A ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy, meet in the summer of 1963 and unexpectedly forge a romantic and lifelong connection. The complications, joys and heartbreak they experience provide a testament to the endurance and power of love.

This is one of those rare occasions when the movie adaptation is better than the book. I love everything about this movie and the themes it explores.

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

January 2, 2017

Recent Reads

191. Lazarus, Vol. 2: Lift
This volume collects issues #5-9.

I liked that this installment of this graphic novel series introduces us to some of the "waste" - people who are of no value to the ruling families. As one might imagine, life is not pleasant for these people, but again, there is no new ground trod here. I continue to like how the Lazarus story unfolds, but the author does not push beyond cliched stories and scenes in the telling of this tale. Let's see what happens next. Rating: 3 stars.

192. Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery": The Authorized Graphic Adaptation
I love the original short story, and I knew better, but was intrigued. The author is Shirely Jackson's grandson, and the introduction where he talks about the family traditions was an interesting read. However. I really liked the art in this, the colors, the ambiance, were all good, but somehow it did not work in toto. It might be because it lacks the punch of the original story, and something is lost in the adaptation. If you have yet to read the original, skip this and read that. Rating: 2 stars.

193. Lazarus: The Second Collection
This omnibus edition collects Volumes 3 (Conclave) and 4 (Poison), so issues #10-21.

I continue to love the backstory of Eve, the Carlyle Lazarus, and getting to understand her childhood makes one appreciate even more the internal conflict she is struggling with. What do you do when you are not who you think you are? Tough questions for most of us, but when you are a Lazarus, the stakes are that much bigger.

I enjoyed meeting the the members of the other families, especially the Lazarii (is that the right word?). The diversity is appreciated, and watching the power struggles both inside the family, and the world at large is a fun read. My complaint with this collection is the same one I've had all along, namely, there is nothing really new explored here, and there is so much potential material! While I'm a fan of strong kick-ass women, and there are loads in this series, that's just not enough to warrant a higher rating. A fun, fast read, and I thought I was done with the series, and then was hit with that ending. What?! When does Volume 5 come out again? Rating: 3 stars.

194. Ms. Marvel, Vol. 5: Super Famous
I love Kamala Khan, I do, but I might be the only one who is not thrilled with the company she keeps - and by that I mean the Avengers! I know she's reached the big leagues, and her glee and pinch-myself-feelings about being allowed to join the As is all well and good, but I for one am conflicted about it.

There are really two stories going on here. The one I'm not really loving is the Avengers/battling various bad guys/frogs bits. It's fun, but that alone would only get a 3 star rating. The parts I adore deal with the struggles of being a young, Pakistani Muslim girl trying her best to fit in, make her family happy, being a typical teen and getting mad at Bruno for dating Mike, etc. Kamala's brother has his eyes on a girl, and the family scenes around this just warmed my heart. Where were books like these when I was a kid? Better late than never. That story line gets 5 stars. So, I'll average this out to 4. I'm so much more interested in the family drama in this series, and love that it explores new, uncharted ground in the comics genre. Rating: 4 stars.

195. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs
In a world that rarely celebrates women, especially women who choose to follow unconventional career paths, this book is a breath of fresh air.

I really liked the diversity of the women in this collection, and the photographs showing each woman in her space are beautiful. However, this is not an in-depth interview with each of the 100 women, but a short Q&A with each. So on the one hand, we quickly get their insights, but on the other, the reading becomes rather rote, and I found myself skimming those towards the end. I did not know the majority of these women, and maybe this is a book better dipped in and out of, rather than being read in a couple of sittings.

I would recommend this to young women starting out, or even more mature ones looking to make a switch. There is comfort in being the company of women who are also following their passions. Rating: 3 stars.