June 30, 2017

Journal pages

I need more practice drawing hair, so watched a video by @alphonsodunn

June 29, 2017

Cinemascope: Great Human Odyssey

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

Image result for great human odyssey

Released in 2016.

Plot line: Numbering no more than a few thousand, tiny groups of intrepid humans began to move out of Africa-eventually dominating the planet. How did these early humans acquire the skills, technology, and talent to thrive in every environment on earth? Takes a global journey through the past, following our ancestors' footsteps out of Africa along a trail of scientific clues to help unravel the mystery of how we got where we are.

I've read several fantastic books on this very topic, and really enjoyed this PBS/NOVA production. There is much to ponder about our origins and this show will get you started.

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

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.