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.

February 10, 2017

Cinemascope: The Hunting Ground

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 hunting ground

Released in 2015.

Plot line: A startling exposé of rape crimes on U.S. campuses, institutional cover-ups and the brutal social toll on victims and their families. Weaving together verité footage and first-person testimonies, the film follows survivors as they pursue their education while fighting for justice - despite harsh retaliation, harassment and pushback at every level.

This one made me angry, mad, and so sad. I applaud these brave women who stood up and told their truth, and am so angry at the college/police/societal systems in place that allow these attacks, and perpetuates the silencing and shaming that surrounds victims of these abuses.

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

February 7, 2017

What's up buttercup?

I don't tend not to cross post much of my Instagram to this blog, so here's a snapshot of what I've been up to lately.

February 6, 2017

Recent Reads

7. Hot Dog Taste Test
The thing about navel gazing is that if your audience does not find similar fluff in their belly buttons things simply don't make sense. This graphic novel is sort of a memoir-ish book dealing mostly with food and bathroom issues, with full page illustrations sprinkled throughout. This is a collection of vignettes, with some longer pieces, and while there were some humorous bits, I was underwhelmed with this one. Rating: 2 stars.

8. Mooncop
This slim graphic novel has wonderfully atmospheric art, but I didn't find the story compelling.

There's a lunar colony, but it's not the utopia once hoped for, and people are leaving and headed back to Earth. The main character is a cop, and as the moon empties out, his beat gets smaller and smaller. There is a pervading sense of melancholy, and there are some humorous moments, but this is not one that will stay with me. Rating: 2 stars.

9. Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1)
I recently asked my nieces and nephews to recommend books they thought I must read. This was Maya's selection. She's 13 and a half, and she and her sisters love the entire series. I've had my eye on this series for a while, but didn't think I was the target audience, so hadn't picked it up. Turns out my instincts were dead on.

This is falls into the young adult/fantasy/romance genre, and it has been compared to both The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. Do not believe that hype. In my opinion this book has pedestrian writing, a weak plot, poorly developed characters, and all the usual genre tropes. Not a single bit of new ground explored here. I was quite intrigued by the premise, but Celaena Sardothien, the young assassin, seems to lose her way once she gets to court. She spends an inordinate amount of time focused on the materials of her dresses, and the two men who make up the other nodes of a love triangle. What happened to the young woman who was the most feared assassin in the land? Does it really only take a few pretty dresses and some "excessively handsome" men to make her so shallow? Given her backstory, this is one traumatized young woman with PTSD, but oh wait, pretty dresses to the rescue. There are trials/tests in this story, but they mostly happen off screen, as so much time gets taken up with dressing and swooning. Sigh.

On the plus side, this is a really quick and easy read, and I was done in a couple of sittings. Also a couple of the characters love to read, however nothing from this story will stick with me. Making the character names interesting does not cut it. There was zero exploration of any of the themes that would have made this an interesting story, and I found it too superficial for my tastes.

Look at the Goodreads reviews, and you'll see that I'm in the minority. I can certainly see why my young nieces loved it. They are currently in the beautiful dresses and "arrogantly handsome" men phase. They assure me that a way more interesting person shows up later, and several reviewers mention that the next installment is fantastic, but I've lost interest in this story and do not plan on continuing with the series. Rating: 2 stars.

February 2, 2017

Cinemascope: Stranger Things (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 stranger things

Released in 2016.

Plot line: This thrilling Netflix-original drama stars award-winning actress Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, who lives in a small Indiana town in 1983, inspired by a time when tales of science fiction captivated audiences. When Joyce's 12-year-old son, Will, goes missing, she launches a terrifying investigation into his disappearance with local authorities. As they search for answers, they unravel a series of extraordinary mysteries involving secret government experiments, unnerving supernatural forces, and a very unusual little girl.

This is a throw back series of sorts. If you loved movies like ET and Super 8, and good old fashioned story telling, give this series a try. As usual with the best sci-fi, the themes explored are wonderful, and this one is fun and a little scary. I enjoyed every minute of it, and cannot wait to see what the next season brings.

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