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?