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.