Monday, March 31, 2014

media update: March

Hey yo.  Sorry I haven't been posting much recently, but not a lot is going on.  I have a few interesting things in the works, though, so watch this space!

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.

G-Vo, skip fiction review #2.


*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

FICTION

1. Grasshopper Jungle* by Andrew Smith:  Austin and his best friend Robby are bored with life in their tiny Iowa town.  But things get considerably less boring when they inadvertently release a plague of gigantic praying mantises.  This novel is a breed all its own; the closest counterpart I can think of is John Dies at the End with a splash of Naked Lunch.  I mean, there are chapters titled "There's Blood on Your Spam" and "Never Look for Ice Cream in a Sperm Freezer".  If that doesn't pique your interest, stay far away; otherwise, dig in for a delightfully fucked up treat.

2. The Troop* by Nick Cutter:  A troop of boys and their scoutmaster head to a remote Canadian island for a camping trip.  But an alarmingly emaciated man crashes the party, and he's brought some very nasty company along with him.

I knew I had to read this when I saw the cover blurbs from Scott Smith (The Ruins) and Stephen King (duh), and they didn't steer me wrong, because The Troop is excellent.  Fair warning, though:  it gets extremely gross.  REALLY gross.  As in, "don't read it right before bed or you will have seriously awful dreams" kind of gross.  Learn from my fail.

Side note: There are several extremely disturbing scenes of animal cruelty, so caveat reader.

3. The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes:  In 1916 France, in the middle of World War I, a young woman named Sophie catches the eye of a German commander.  When she takes a risk in hopes of being reunited with her husband, things go very wrong.  Almost a century later, a portrait of Sophie becomes the centerpiece of a heated legal battle.  I found the sections from Sophie's point of view far more interesting than those of Liv's, the woman who owns the portrait, but the entire book was pretty good overall.

4. The Weight of Blood* by Laura McHugh:  When the dismembered body of her childhood friend Cheri is found stuffed into the hollow of a tree, Lucy is determined to find the killer.  But in her quest for justice, she discovers that the disappearance of her mother many years before may have a shocking link to Cheri's murder.

As soon as I saw the blurb on the front cover from Karin Slaughter, one of my favorite authors, I knew I had to pick this up, and Ms. Slaughter didn't steer me wrong.  It's like Gillian Flynn crossed with Winter's Bone, and it's really freakin' good.  I tore through it in two days.

5. Half Bad by Sally Green:  Nathan is shunned by society because he is the illegitimate son of a white witch mother and a black witch father, but not just any black witch...the most reviled and vicious witch in the world.  (Imagine Harry Potter if Voldemort was his father.)  He's never known his father, but he wants to find him and receive the three gifts that will cause his own magical powers to blossom. 

I was really excited to read this because it's getting so much buzz, but it left me a bit cold because I didn't like most of the characters.  Still, it's not half bad (hurr hurr see what I did there), so I'll probably pick up the next volume as well when it comes out.  Yes, it's going to be a trilogy; I think it's an actual law now that all YA novels with any sort of fantasy/dystopian/magical bent have to be trilogies.

6. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers:  As if to prove my previous point, this is book one of a trilogy.  It's about Ismae, a teenage girl raised by a convent that worships Saint Mortain, the god of death.  She's trained as an elite assassin and sent to a court in Brittany to deal with some political shiz.  It's pretty good, and I've already requested the second book from the library.  (The final volume drops this fall.)


*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

 NONFICTION

1. Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date by Katie Heaney:  A memoir of the author's quest to find a boyfriend.  Like most books of this type (with the very notable exceptions of Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson and Meaty by Samantha Irby), the author thinks she's much funnier/more interesting than she really is, but it has some good moments.

Side note:  The front cover has a typo on it, if you can believe that.  The FRONT COVER!  Lame.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Locke & Key* vol. 6 by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez:  An excellent ending to an amazing series.

2. Midnight Secretary vols. 1-4 by Tomu Ohmi:  I wouldn't call this a hate read, because the art is pretty and the story is entertaining, but holy balls is the male romantic lead a dick.  He's a vampire who uses his secretary Kaya for her particularly fragrant blood, and he apparently went to a charm school run by Christian Grey.  "You are mine", "You no longer belong to yourself but to me", that kind of bullshit.  So of course she thinks he's the greatest thing ever.  Kaya needs to stake him in the heart and get together with the nice non-dick non-vampire dude who also likes her and has a cat. 

3. Black Bird vol. 18 (final volume) by Kanako Sakurakoji

4. The Walking Dead* vol. 20 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, and Cliff Rathburn

5. Rin-Ne vol. 14 by Rumiko Takahashi



*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

MOVIES

1. In A World...*:  A vocal coach (Lake Bell, who also wrote and directed) is determined to become the first female movie trailer announcer, but she'll have to beat out her wildly successful father first.  This was a delightful little surprise; the dialogue is quirky and funny without being completely unrealistic.  (*cough Juno cough*)  G-Vo and I really liked it.

2. Nebraska:  Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is an elderly man who thinks he's won a million dollars in a sweepstakes, and he wants to go to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim the "prize" in person.  After trying to dissuade him without success, his son finally agrees to take him.  Along the way, they visit family and friends who want a chunk of the money.  The performances were great (especially June Squibb as Woody's sharp-tongued wife), and it had some really funny lines, but it was a bit overhyped.  Also, there was absolutely no reason for it to be in black and white other than sheer pretentiousness.

3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire*:  Although everybody who cares has already read or seen this, I'll refrain from spoilers.  I'll just say that I really enjoyed it.  Bonus:  Effie Trinket's costumes are really amazing.

4. Thor: The Dark World:  Megahunky superhero Thor fights to protect the Nine Realms from an evil dude who wants to plunge the entire universe into darkness.  Goofy but fun; it has some really funny scenes and a nice cameo.  Also, there's a special feature on the DVD about the Mandarin (from the Iron Man movies) that's well worth watching.

5. Dark Touch:  After her entire family is killed, young Neve insists that their house was possessed and caused the tragic accident.  Needless to say, nobody believes her...until things start happening again.  It gives things away WAY too early and I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, but for the most part it's a decent little thriller.

6. Escape Plan: Ray (Sylvester Stallone) has made a good living by figuring out how to break out of maximum security prisons.  But when he finds himself stuck in a prison that stumps even him, he enlists a fellow inmate (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to help him break free.  Not essential viewing by any stretch of the imagination, but it has its moments.

7. Justice League: War:  The Justice League bands together to fight an alien menace.  The voice acting isn't particularly good and the plot is meh, but there are some really funny lines (mostly courtesy of Green Lantern being snarky towards Batman) and decent action sequences.

8. 12 Years a Slave*:  This best picture Oscar winner is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped from New York and sold into slavery.  It's very well done and the performances are terrific (especially Michael Fassbender as a particularly cruel plantation owner and Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey, the slave he takes a fancy to), but it's almost unrelentingly grim and watching it kind of felt like a punishment.  I know that sounds rich, like "Awww, sorry you found this historically accurate movie hard to watch, white woman", but that's how I felt.  I'm still giving it a star on the basis of its performances and the beautiful cinematography, and because it's a story that deserved to be told, but I never want to see it again.

9. Frozen*:   After she inadvertently traps her kingdom in eternal winter, Elsa flees to the wilderness and isolates herself in a castle made of ice.  Her sister Anna, accompanied by a mountaineer, heads out to find her and break the curse.  Beautifully animated and sweet, and the talking snowman didn't annoy me nearly as much as I thought he would.

Side note:  G-Vo pointed out how much the song "Let It Go" sounds like Katy Perry's "Firework".  Listen for yourself!


10. Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher:  The title characters team up to stop an illegal arms dealer, but Punisher's methods go against SHIELD's directives.  The animation (by Japanese company Madhouse) is gorgeous, but the story was just meh.  I was astounded when the credits rolled and I saw that Black Widow was voiced by Jennifer "Deb from Dexter" Carpenter and Punisher was voiced by Brian "Alex from Silent Hill Homecoming" Bloom, because I didn't catch that at ALL.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. Pure Heroine by Lorde:  Yeah, I'm sick of "Royals" like everybody else with a radio, but there are some great tracks on here.  My favorite is "Tennis Court".  It amuses me to no end that there are actually Lorde age truthers out there, i.e. people who refuse to believe she's only 17, but after listening to this album, I'm about to join their ranks.

2. "FU" by Miley Cyrus

Friday, February 28, 2014

media update: February

So I played The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC, and oh my god, it was absolutely amazing.  I know a lot of people (myself included) grumbled about the $15 cost, especially considering that it's only about 3 hours long, but you know what?  Would you complain about spending $15 to see a really good movie?  I can't review it without massive spoilers for the original game, but please trust me:  if you loved TLOU, you're going to love this too.  It's gorgeous, it's exciting, it's emotional, and the voice acting is superlative.  It's well worth your money and your time.

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.

* * * * * * * * * * 

FICTION


1. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd:  In 19th century Charleston, Sarah Grimke receives an unusual gift for her 11th birthday: a slave girl named Handful.  Sarah is appalled, but she and Handful become friends, and as Sarah gets older, she's determined to put an end to slavery.

This was an Oprah Book Club pick, which tells you pretty much all you need to know.  It isn't bad, but it really started to lose my interest in the final third.

2. These Broken Stars* by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner:  Tarver is a war hero traveling on a luxury spaceliner, but when it's pulled out of hyperspace and crashes, he discovers that the only other survivor is Lilac LaRoux (I know, I can't handle that name either), the daughter of the galaxy's richest man.  She's spoiled as hell and obnoxious, so you know what that means: love connection!  It's like a mash-up of Titanic, Lost, and (oddly enough) Beyond: Two Souls, but you know what?  I actually really enjoyed it, especially when the plot took a very interesting turn about halfway through.  It's not cerebral reading or anything, but it's fun.  I shall eagerly await the second book (because of course it's a trilogy) in December.

3. Burn* by Julianna Baggott:  The final book of the Pure trilogy wraps up perfectly, making it my favorite YA dystopian trilogy series ever.  Yes, even more than The Hunger Games.

4. Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd:  This is a direct sequel to The Madman's Daughter, can't review it properly...you know the drill by now.

5. Killer by Jonathan Kellerman:  Dr. Alex Delaware is called upon to assist with a very messy custody case that gets even uglier when one of the plaintiffs turns up dead.  An entertaining mystery; Kellerman can be pretty hit or miss, but I enjoyed this one.

6. The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley:  Eve's son Tyler has xeroderma pigmentosum, which basically causes him to be allergic to light.  She's spent his entire life keeping him safe from harm, but when she makes a fateful decision, she puts her entire family at risk.  It's very Jodi Picoult-esque, only without the irritating twists that Picoult likes to toss into her endings.

7. Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas:  In 1885, socialite Beret Osmundsen heads to Denver after hearing that her estranged sister Lillie has been murdered in a brothel.  Despite the warnings of her aunt and uncle, who had taken Lillie in after the sisters' falling out, and detective Mick McCauley, Beret is determined to find Lillie's killer.  The writing occasionally seemed stiff, but I liked it fine.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

 NONFICTION

1. Meaty* by Samantha Irby:  A collection of essays by the Bitches Gotta Eat blogger that had me howling out loud, with the exception of an utterly heartbreaking one in which she describes being the caretaker to her severely disabled mother and one in which her father has a violent reaction to the way she's washing a skillet.  And I shit you not, she actually managed to make me feel better about myself with the brutally frank entry in which she details her physical flaws.  I was like "Oh my god, other women get hyperpigmentation from their bra too?  I'm not alone!  Praise Jesus!"  She's also a big Muse fan and has a cat named Helen Keller, so basically she and I are meant to be friends and I will go out and buy us a set of broken heart BFF necklaces just as soon as I post this entry.  

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Juicy Cider by Rize Shinba

2. Revival* vol. 2 by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton
 
3. Sakura Hime vol. 12 (final volume) by Arina Tanemura

4. Kamisama Kiss vol. 14 by Julietta Suzuki

5. Judge vol. 3 by Yoshiki Tonogai




*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

MOVIES

1. The Lone Ranger:  Sometimes I see a notorious box office bomb on DVD and wonder why it flopped so hard...which was not the case with this bloated, embarrassing mess.  Skip it unless you want the William Tell Overture stuck in your head for three days straight.

2. Bad Grandpa*:  After his wife dies, Irving (Johnny Knoxville in amazing old man prosthetics) just wants to enjoy himself.  But when his daughter is sent to prison, Irving finds himself in custody of his grandson Billy, and he reluctantly takes the "little cockblock" on a road trip to reunite Billy with his father.  In Borat fashion, the story is interspersed with scenes of Irving and Billy interacting with real people who aren't in on the joke.  It's pretty damn funny; the scene where Irving enters Billy in a child beauty pageant had G and me in tears.

3. Sunlight Jr.:  Melissa (Naomi Watts) lives with her paraplegic boyfriend (Matt Dillon) in a seedy Florida motel.  When she finds out she's pregnant, they begin to think they can turn their lives around, but it won't be that simple.  It's decent, but unless you want to spend 90 minutes watching people trying to claw their way out of desperate poverty, you could probably find a more pleasant way to spend your time.

4. Despicable Me 2:  I liked the original well enough, but this was weak:  not very funny and not emotionally engaging at all.  If there's a DM3, I think I'll take a Pasadena on it.

5. Fast & Furious 6:  Plot synopsis?  Who cares?  All you need to know is that it has lots of cool cars driving really fast, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's enormous biceps, and a really cool stinger.  It was really weird and sad seeing Paul Walker, though.

6. Carrie*:  Okay, so the original was good enough that it didn't really need to be remade, but the story of bullied telekinetic teen Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her bloody revenge is still immensely satisfying.  And as Carrie's religious fanatic mom, Julianne Moore is terrifying.

7. Ender's Game*:  Ender's Game:  Gifted teenagers are recruited by the military to prepare for battle against the Formics, a buglike alien that nearly decimated the human race.  The Formics have lain low since their previous invasion, but the military doesn't want to take any chances, and young Ender may be humanity's last hope.

This movie tanked, no doubt to Orson Scott Card's ill-timed and idiotic homophobic rantings shortly before release, but it was actually pretty good if you're in the mood for some sci-fi action.

8. Captain Phillips*:  The true story of how Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) survived the takeover of his cargo ship by Somalian pirates.  Unbelievably tense and, as you'd expect, beautifully acted.

9. Machete Kills:  This deliriously (and deliberately) cheesy sequel to the neo-grindhouse action flick has ex-Federale Machete going up against arms dealers and a psycho cartel boss.  Lots of fun.

10. Blue Is the Warmest Color*:  Adele is a young French woman who is mesmerized when she sees a blue-haired woman on the street.  When she runs into the woman, who is named Emma, in a gay bar, they quickly form a bond and soon fall in love.

This movie was based on the graphic novel of the same name, which I read last year, and they made quite a few changes, mostly for the good.  I do wish it had been a bit shorter; it was 3 hours long (and apparently there's a director's cut coming out soon that adds almost an hour!), and there were many scenes that could easily have been pared down.  But the performances are amazing, so it's well worth a watch if you don't have a problem with graphic sexual content.  Because let me tell you, there's a masturbation scene and a heterosexual sex scene (including a shot of an erect penis) in the first 20 minutes, and plenty of lesbian sex too, so even though it's not porn, you better be ready for how explicit it is.

Speaking of those sex scenes, be sure to have the remote handy because some of them get LOUD.  I wasn't prepared for it and had to leap from the couch to turn the volume down lest my neighbors think I was having a super sexy lesbian fling in my apartment.


*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Tenshi no Yubikiri" (opening theme to KareKano)
2. "Go All the Way" by The Raspberries:  Mmmm...sweet sweet 70s power pop.

3. "Crown on the Ground" by Sleigh Bells

4. "Drop It Low" by Ester Dean

5. "212" by Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay

6. "FML" by Deadmau5

7. "Go All the Way" by The Killers

Friday, January 31, 2014

media update: January

And how was your January?  Mine was pretty good for the most part.  G and I went to Florida, where his parents were renting a condo, for Padre's 75th birthday.  Since my dad and stepmother live about 15 minutes away from the rental condo, and they've become good friends with G's parents, they attended too.  Overall it was a very nice visit, aside from a few tense travel moments that wound up fine and a brief argument with my dad, which is always a treat. ( And by "treat", I mean "dangerous spike in my blood pressure".)

No video game review this month, although G and I did play and finish one game that didn't merit a full review but does merit mention.  It was called Project Diva F, and it was a rhythm game starring Hatsune Miku, the computer generated Japanese pop idol who, I shit you not, has actually sold out concerts in Japan.  Take a look:


...she's a better lipsyncher than Britney Spears, at any rate.

This was my favorite song/video from the game, shown here without any of the gameplay.  (After clearing a song, you could watch the video without all of the prompts, which was nice because some of the videos were really cool.)


Anyway, it was really fun, although I'd only recommend it to rhythm game fans or aficionados of bizarre Japanese cultural phenomenons.
 
 Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.






FICTION


1. Ace, King, Knave* by Maria McCann:  Betsy-Ann Blore is a former prostitute who now makes her living by gambling and selling stolen goods.  Sophia is a naive young woman who's just married the incredibly handsome and charming Ned Zedland, whose mysterious past will come to affect them all. 

Maria McCann wrote my favorite book of all time, so when I saw that she had a new one out, I immediately went on Amazon's UK page and ordered it.  (For some reason, her last two books have not been commercially released in the US.)  I tried very hard not to let my passionate love for As Meat Loves Salt affect my perception of this book, but I failed, because I couldn't help but be a bit disappointed.  But that's not fair to Ms. McCann, because although Ace, King, Knave took a while to hook me, I did wind up enjoying it quite a bit.

Side note #1:  If you read this, I suggest immediately flipping to the back (try not to accidentally see the ending, of course!) and marking the glossary with a Post-It, because you will CONSTANTLY be referring to it; this book is filled with obscure 17th century slang. 

Side note #2:  Thanks to Amazon's discounts, even though this book was sent to me from England, it cost about the same as an average hardcover at Barnes & Noble. 

2. Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey:  The second in Grey's trilogy about Marie Antoinette.  I have a soft spot for Marie Antoinette (probably thanks to the anime/manga series The Rose of Versailles) as well as historical fiction, so I liked it, even though the cheeseball cover made it embarrassing to read in public.  I'll definitely pick up the final book because I need to know how it ends!

3. Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano:  Morgan is a teenage girl who lives in a floating utopian city called Internment.  But when another girl is murdered, Morgan begins to wonder how perfect her world is after all.

I was really looking forward to this because DeStefano wrote the Chemical Garden trilogy, which I loved, but Perfect Ruin was just okay.  I'll probably finish the series, but I won't rush to grab the next installment as soon as it's released like I did with the Chemical Garden books.

4. Enders by Lissa Price:  This is a direct sequel to Starters, so I can't properly review it due to potential spoilers.  It was meh.

5. Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau:  Oh look, another YA dystopian novel...my third this month!  It's a direct sequel to The Testing, so I can't properly review it due to potential spoilers.  It was aight.






NONFICTION


1. Autobiography* by Morrissey:  I was a bullied and lonely teenage girl in the 80s, and The Smiths made me feel like someone out there understood me, even if it was an effeminate vegetarian singer from Manchester.  So of course I had to pick up Morrissey's autobiography, and it didn't disappoint.  I was particularly thrilled to see that he spent almost 2 full pages singing the praises of Sparks, the criminally underrated band that's one of my favorites of all time.  (Refer to my blog title as proof.)  I'm still not thrilled that Morrissey recently compared meat eaters to pedophiles, because seriously WTF dude, but I will always love the guy.  I was lucky enough to see him in concert in San Jose, Halloween 1991, and it remains one of my most treasured memories.

2. Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah:  The author's husband received a diplomatic assignment in Paris, but shortly after they moved there, he was reassigned to Iraq for a year.  Quite understandably, she stayed behind in France, and she decided to devote her time to studying (and eating) French food.  As you might imagine, it made me hungry as hell.  There's a scene where she talks about salted caramel crepes, and I almost burst into tears from jealousy. 








MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS


1. Revival* by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton

2. Hack/Slash: My First Maniac by Tim Seeley and Daniel Leister

3. Fables: Snow White by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Shawn McManus

4. Priceless Honey by Shiuko Kano

5. Demon Love Spell vol. 5 by Mayu Shinjo

6. Kizuna vol. 1 (deluxe edition) by Kazuma Kodaka

7. Lies Are a Gentleman's Manners by Marta Matsuo

8. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 2 by Nico Tanigawa

9. Otomen vol. 17 by Aya Kanno

10. Aria vol. 12 (final volume) by Natsumi Ando






MOVIES


1. 2 Guns:  Two dudes (Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg) try to infiltrate a drug cartel with disastrous results.  I can't say much more due to spoilers, but it's a decent action comedy.

2. Dead Man Down:  Victor (Colin Farrell) is contacted by his beautiful neighbor with a request: help her get revenge on the man responsible for scarring her face or she'll tell the police that she saw him commit a crime. Good performances and a decidedly Luc Besson feel, though he had nothing to do with this movie.

3. Thanks for Sharing:  When Adam (the always delicious Mark Ruffalo) and Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) meet at a party, their chemistry is instantaneous.  But there's a catch: Adam is a recovering sex addict.  It wasn't great or anything, and it drags in spots, but I liked it well enough.

4. Prisoners*:  After his little girl and her friend disappear and the primary suspect is released by the police, Keller Dover takes matters into his own hands and kidnaps the man, intending to get the truth out of him.  Very tense and well done, and Hugh Jackman is excellent as the anguished father.

Side note: I can't get over how much Hugh Jackman looks like Ethan Mars in the poster.  The movie has some interesting similarities to Heavy Rain, so I guess that's appropriate.  (This is not a huge spoiler for either the game or the movie.)

5. You're Next*:  Erin joins her boyfriend for a weekend at his parents' estate for an anniversary celebration.  But things turn ugly when a very unwelcome group of party crashers starts picking people off.  A gruesome treat with the savviest "final girl" since the horror heyday of Jamie Lee Curtis.

6. Blue Jasmine:  After her husband is jailed for fraud, formerly wealthy socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) reluctantly moves in with her sister.  But as she tries to rebuild her life, it keeps falling apart.  A compelling character study, but it's depressing as hell.  Blanchett is amazing, though, and the frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar next month.

7. Insidious 2:  I have no idea why I watched this, because I didn't like the original much.  Jesus effing Christ was it awful.  Even Patrick Wilson was terrible in it.  Skip.






ADDED TO MY IPOD


1. "Wuthering Heights" by Kate Bush

2. "Secret Police" by Hatsune Miku

3. "Weekender Girl" by Hatsune Miku

4. "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities

Monday, January 06, 2014

2013: the year that was

JANUARY: Bought a new laptop and struggled mightily with Windows 8. Went to LACMA with G and his family, the highlight of which was standing next to Padre looking at a Mapplethorpe photo of a guy getting fisted. (Padre's comment: "Ow.") Got a nasty cold. Finished Resident Evil 6 campaign co-op mode and got all the bonus figurines. Went to a gastroenterologist for a second opinion on gallbladder surgery and liked her so much that I wanted her to be my bestie. Finished Braid. Read 4 novels, 8 volumes of manga, and 7 graphic novels; watched 13 movies.  

FEBRUARY: Went to Little Tokyo with G and C and was delighted to find that our favorite macaron place had reopened. Watched the Super Bowl. Had to get three fillings replaced. Made arrangements to get my gallbladder yanked out. Valentine's Day was lovely; G sent me flowers at work, and we spent the evening exchanging cards/gifts/sweet nothings, eating pizza, and playing video games. Finished The Testament of Sherlock Holmes. Got my gallbladder taken out, and was relieved beyond belief that they didn't have to do the much more complicated open surgery or a post-op endoscopy. The hospital released me that afternoon, and I spent the next several days recuperating under G's careful and loving eye. Read 7 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 6 volumes of manga, and 1 graphic novel; watched 11 movies.  

MARCH: Reluctantly returned to work. Finished Dead Space 3. Went antiquing. Got pretty far into the Saw video game until it got so frustrating and repetitive that we returned it to Gamefly. G got whomped by the flu, and although I remained unscathed, I got hit with allergies. Went to the crotch doc. Work drama, coupled with training for a new phone system, left me exhausted. Went to Santa Monica with G and M. Read 6 novels, 3 nonfiction books, 2 graphic novels, and 2 volumes of manga; watched 16 movies.

APRIL: Went to the animal shelter and loved up on kitties, including 15-year-old Siamese sisters named Silky and Fluffy. (Hey, I didn't name them.) Got a new phone system at work that's about as user friendly as a thistle covered dildo. Took a day off work to get some shit done. Spoiler alert: I didn't get shit done. Finished DmC: Devil May Cry. Lost my XBOX Live virginity and played Dead Space 3 co-op with a cool and mellow bro; the key to his easygoing personality can probably be explained by the fact that his gamer tag contained the numbers 420. Finished Ghost Trick. I wore my Teddie (from Persona 4) shirt to Red Robin, and when we stood up to leave, the kid in the booth behind G jumped up, said "Every day's great at your Junes!", and gave me a fist bump, which was bizarre but cool. Read 3 novels, 5 nonfiction books, 5 graphic novels, and 5 volumes of manga; watched 9 movies.

MAY: May was an unbelievably boring month; pretty much all I did was work and read. The California wildfires got so bad that work let us go home early. Mainlined season 3 of Game of Thrones and season 7 of Dexter. Read 5 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 4 volumes of manga, and 3 graphic novels; watched 8 movies.

JUNE: Work continued to blow goats for quarters. G and I went to a botanical garden and canoodled by the koi pond. Developed an intense crush on Ray Stevenson thanks to his awesome performance in season 7 of Dexter. Finished the Tomb Raider reboot. Got a mammogram, and fortunately everything is fine with my jigglypuffs. G surprised me with a piece of my favorite cheesecake (almond biscotti crust, represent!) after I tweeted about being sad. Madre and Padre came to California for Padre's military reunion, and we spent a nice day together. Scorching heat kept me inside as much as possible, running up my electric bill and loafing in air conditioned comfort. Finished the HD Collection version of Silent Hill 2. Read 5 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 4 graphic novels, and 5 volumes of manga; watched 10 movies.
  
JULY: Continued to be incredibly lazy due to the SoCal heat wave. A coworker kept playing and crying over a video of her son and pregnant daughter-in-law cutting their gender announcement cake, leading to lots of headaches. Received a moisturizer sample from Sephora that turned out to be self-tanner; fortunately I found out before the bright orange tint of my face became semi-permanent! G, C, and I had a shared birthday dinner. Finished The Last of Us. Spent G's birthday fawning over him, as is his due. Spent MY birthday off work, lazing about the house, and when G got off work, we went out for a nice dinner and then he gifted me with a Nintendo 3DS. Back at work the next day, my work bestie surprised me with a Hello Kitty decorated cube and lots of delicious goodies for lunch. Won two magazine contests (basically every Garnier hair product in existence and a bottle of Jurlique perfume) in the span of a week. Read 5 novels, 5 graphic novels, and 1 volume of manga; watched 11 movies.  

AUGUST: Finished Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic. Was startled to see an Aston Martin in front of me in the Wendy's drive through. Finished Resident Evil: Revelations. Went to a new dentist, who happened to be Japanese-American, and was mortified when my cell phone went off during my appointment; I wouldn't have cared quite so much if my ringtone wasn't "Turning Japanese". Had to call my landlady about my ornery toilet for the second time in as many months. Went to Little Tokyo, and in addition to my usual purchases like magazines and macarons, I bought a painting. Finished Gabrielle's Ghostly Groove. Finished Dragon's Crown. G and I celebrated our 9th anniversary. G, C, and I went to Washington DC, and we spent a lovely week visiting friends, seeing the sights, and eating fabulous food ranging from dim sum to homemade salted caramel Pop-Tarts. Read 5 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 6 graphic novels, and 2 volumes of manga; watched 6 movies.

SEPTEMBER: Was deeply saddened to find out that Winston, Padre's friend's gorgeous British shorthair that I was in love with, had died. Finished Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. Came home from work to find that G had left me a surprise: avgolemono soup, pita bread, and rice pilaf from my favorite Greek restaurant, as well as a Godiva truffle for dessert. The NY Giants lost 4 games in a row, putting G and Padre into a deep funk. Read 5 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 5 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels; watched 10 movies.

OCTOBER: The Giants continued to suck. Went to Florida to visit Daddy-O; trip highlights included feeding a sausage on a stick to a grizzly bear at a rescue sanctuary, the Ringling Brothers Museum, Mote Aquarium, Selby Gardens, and a glorious dessert called Dreamsicle cake, as well as spending lots of quality time with my dad. We did have one nasty argument, and he worked my last nerve a couple of times, but overall it was a fun trip. Returning to work was not nearly as fun, of course, especially since I came back just as a colossal shitstorm erupted. Finished Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi. Went to C's mom's funeral. Got massively sick with sinusitis and an ear infection, and then I had a bad reaction to the first antibiotic I was on, so I was pretty miserable. Read 8 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 4 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels; watched 11 movies.

NOVEMBER: G and I went to D-Con, an art/toy designer convention in Pasadena. It was fun, although the traffic was awful and it took us forever to find parking. Spent a lovely day in downtown Ventura with our friend M. Finished Beyond: Two Souls. Spent a wonderful and gloriously lazy Thanksgiving weekend with G. Was shocked and saddened to hear that Paul Walker died. Read 5 novels, 4 nonfiction books, 10 volumes of manga, and 3 graphic novels; saw 14 movies.

DECEMBER: My stepmother effed up her knee playing tennis. SoCal was hit by a cold snap which forced me to bust out my Nanook of the North parka. Finished Deadpool. Went to Santa Fe with G and spent almost 2 glorious weeks socializing, reading, eating fabulous food, and catching up on my sleep. Read 5 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 7 graphic novels, and 1 volume of manga; saw 9 movies.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

media update: December

Happy New Year, everybody!  I can't believe 2013 is over.  It was kind of a wash; nothing really terrific happened, but nothing really bad happened either.  Well, I guess the gallbladder surgery was no picnic, but considering that it's major surgery, it wasn't that bad.  So yeah, a wash.  Here's hoping that 2014 is supermegafreakin' awesome for everyone who deserves it!  (Assholes and bad people, of course, can have a breathtakingly shitty 2014 as far as I'm concerned.)

No video game review this month.  G-Vo and I finished Deadpool, which was pretty funny, but the action was standard boilerplate and it didn't really warrant a full review.

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.






FICTION


1. Ashes* by Ilsa J. Bick:  Trying to come to grips with her inoperable brain tumor and the deaths of her parents, Alex decides to go on a solitary hike in the woods.  But during her trip, an EMP of unknown origin hits, turning some people into bloodthirsty monsters.  And for the first time in a long time, Alex finds her will to live.

Yeah, yeah, it's the first volume in yet another postapocalyptic YA trilogy, but it's goddamn good; it's like The Walking Dead meets Cheryl Strayed's hiking memoir Wild.   I loved it so much that I went back and added it to my favorite fiction list of 2013.  It ended on a cliffhanger, but it didn't matter because soon after finishing, I went to the library and checked out...

2. Shadows* by Ilsa J. Bick:  ...which I can't review lest I spoil the previous book.

3. Monsters* by Ilsa J. Bick:  Ditto.  I'll just say it wraps up perfectly, and that I'm glad I discovered this series shortly after the final volume was published.  That way, I was able to mainline all three books in the course of two weeks!  Anyway, I highly recommend this series, though I should warn you that the violence can get VERY graphic.  Don't let the YA tag fool you.

Side note: at the very end of the book, there's a list of characters and a recap of what happened to them in Shadows.  I have no idea why they put that at the end of the book, but if you need a refresher, go to the back of the book first!  Just be careful not to spoil the ending for yourself, of course.

4. Delirium Stories by Lauren Oliver:  A collection of three short stories about minor characters in the Delirium universe.  Not necessary unless you've already read and enjoyed the Delirium trilogy.

5. Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey:  This novel is told from the perspective of Marie Antoinette as she leaves her home in Austria and goes to France to marry the dauphin, ending just as she and Louis become the new king and queen.  There are two more novels covering the rest of her life, and although this wasn't phenomenal, I'll probably still read them.

TOTAL READ IN 2013:  63






NONFICTION


1. Anything That Moves* by Dana Goodyear:  Usually books about food make me ravenously hungry, but this one sure didn't!  It covers the extreme foodie movement (think raw milk, marijuana infused dishes, and bugs), and although it can get really gross, it's very interesting, especially the section on an underground farmer's market in Venice, California.

TOTAL READ IN 2013: 22






MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS


1. The Joker: Death of the Family* by way too many people to list here because this story arc spanned several different series.

2. Hyperbole and a Half* by Allie Brosh:  The best of the blog collected in one full color volume, in addition to some new stuff.  Her series on her battle with depression is one of the best things I've ever read on the internet.

3. The Last of Us: American Dreams by Neil Druckman, Faith Erin Hicks, and Rachelle Rosenberg

4. The Walking Dead vol. 19 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn

5. Deadpool: Suicide Kings by Mike Benson, Adam Glass, Carlo Barberi, and Shawn Crystal

6. Judge vol. 2 by Shiki Tonogai

7. Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

8. Batwoman vol. 3 by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman

TOTAL READ IN 2013: 102






MOVIES


1. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane:  Mandy (Amber Heard) is a beautiful high school student who's lusted after by every boy at school.  When she and her friends go on a weekend trip to a secluded ranch, a mysterious killer begins picking them off one by one.  An interesting throwback to 80s slasher flicks (even the title screen is an homage), but if you've ever seen a horror movie in your life, it is VERY predictable.  There was also a serious missed opportunity where a future victim plays with magnetic letters on the fridge.  The killer could have made a perfect anagram out of the exact same letters Future Victim used.  

2. The Wolverine*:  Wolverine is living in seclusion when he's summoned to Japan by an old friend.  Wolverine agrees, but it turns out to be anything but a pleasurable vacation.  It's a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the scenery...by which I mean both Japan and Hugh Jackman shirtless.  GodDAMN!

Side note:  be sure to watch the credits!

3. R.I.P.D.:  After being killed in the line of duty, a cop (Ryan Reynolds) is assigned to the Rest in Peace Department, which protects the living world from "deados".  I hoped it would be the fun kind of bad, but it was just plain bad.

4. 10 Items or Less*:  An actor (who is never named; he's just listed in the credits as "Him") doing research for a role runs into a testy grocery store clerk named Scarlet.  He's fascinated by her ordinary life, and after her shift ends, he bums a ride in order to get a better look at how she lives.  It's a enjoyably quirky little film, oddly reminiscent of Lost in Translation, and Morgan Freeman is excellent.  (As opposed to, you know, his usual underwhelming performances.)  I especially liked the scene where he's astounded by the bounty of Target.  I do wish, however, that they hadn't included the wacky scenes in the credits because I felt they lessened the impact of the ending.

5. The Purge:  In the near future, the US holds a yearly "purge" that lasts for 12 hours.  During that time, any crime is legal, even murder, and emergency services are suspended.  Rich people buy expensive security systems and barricade themselves in their homes until the purge is over, but the poor are shit out of luck.  James Sandin has made a fortune selling those security systems, but he didn't count on his young son taking pity on an injured man and letting him inside.  Unfortunately, the man's attackers don't take too well to losing their prey, and the Sandins find themselves under siege.  Interesting premise, poor execution.  I also found myself distracted by Lena Headey's terrible wig.

6. Elysium:  In the future, the very rich have fled Earth to live on a luxurious space station called Elysium.  Back on our planet, Max (Matt Damon) is exposed to radiation at his job and learns that he has five days to live.  He wants to take an illegal shuttle to Elysium and use one of their "med beds", which can cure any illness, but Elysium's secretary of defense (an unusually hammy Jodie Foster) is determined to stop him.  I wanted to like this movie, because I loved District 9 (which was also written and directed by Neill Blomkamp), but the allegory was incredibly heavy handed and the ending sucked.  Beautiful visuals, though.

7. Equilibrium:  In a dystopian future where emotions are suppressed through mandatory drug use in order to prevent World War IV, a cleric (Christian Bale) tasked with keeping the peace skips a dose of his medicine and discovers what he's been missing for so many years; chaos ensues.  Some good gun fu and an interesting concept, but you can safely skip it. 

8. The World's End*:  Gary King (Simon Pegg) longs to go back to his teenage glory days, so he gathers up his old friends for an epic pub crawl that doesn't go quite how they planned.  The less you know, the better, so I'll just say it's a bittersweet end to the Cornetto trilogy. 

9. Incendies:  After their mother dies, Jeanne and Simon go to the Middle East to fulfill her last wishes.  It's well done and has some interesting plot developments, but my god was it DEPRESSING.  Padre wanted us to see it because he was so blown away by it, but once it was over, we all just sat there in a shellshocked state.  I would never have finished it if I'd been watching it on my own.

TOTAL SEEN IN 2013: 128






ADDED TO MY IPOD


1. "Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage" by Killer Pussy

2. "I Kiss Your Lips" by Tokyo Ghetto Pussy: No, I'm not on a mission to download songs by bands with the word "pussy" in their names; this was sheer coincidence.  Sometimes magic just happens.

3. "Eclipse (All Yours)" by Metric

4. "Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever)" by Muse

5. "In Anticipation of Your Suicide" by Bedroom Walls

6. "Hearing Damage" by Thom Yorke

7. "The Violet Hour" by Sea Wolf

8. "A White Demon Love Song" by The Killers

9. "I Belong to You" by Muse

10. "La Receta" by Kemo the Blaxican

11. "Sister I'm a Poet" by Morrissey

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

best of 2013: movies

And now it's time for my final "best of 2013" list: movies! I've added a few bonus bits after the top 10 as well. A few notes before I begin:
  • Not all of these were first released in 2013, but that's when I first saw them.
  • Aside from the first two, these aren't necessarily in order.
  • G-Vo, skip review #8.
  • And, as always, your mileage may vary.

1. Life of Pi: After a shipwreck, Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, and they must struggle to survive against overwhelming odds. An absolutely gorgeous and heartwrenching movie that definitely needed to be seen in the theater for the full impact; the 3D was astounding.

2. Seven Psychopaths: A screenwriter gets tangled up in his friends' bizarre dognapping scheme, but things turn nasty when they steal a gangster's shih tzu. The blackly funny script and excellent performances (especially from Sam Rockwell) made this an awesome surprise; I absolutely loved it. I came very close to naming this my favorite movie of the year, but gave the edge to Life of Pi because of its visuals.

3. Looper: In this sci-fi mindfuck, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, looking less dreamy than usual due to facial prosthetics) is a hitman who kills people sent from the future. But when a surprising person shows up for assassination, he has to figure out a plan. An extremely clever treat.

4. Wreck-It Ralph: Ralph is a video game villain who wants to be a good guy, so he ventures out of his own game into other ones in hopes of fulfilling that quest. But in the process, he unintentionally endangers the entire arcade. A funny valentine to retro gaming.

5. Argo: When Iranian militants storm the American embassy and take hostages, six people manage to escape and take refuge at the Canadian ambassador's home. Back in the US, a CIA agent (Ben Affleck, who also directed) concocts an outrageous plan: get them out of the country by pretending they're Canadians working on a film shoot. Astoundingly enough, this is based on a true story that was declassified by President Clinton in 1997. It won the 2013 Best Picture Oscar.

6. John Dies at the End: This movie is damn near impossible to describe. Basically, there's a new street drug called Soy Sauce that has some very strange side effects, but there's a whole lot more to it than that. I've seen some really weird movies in my time, and trust me, this is one of the weirdest. Destined to become a cult classic.

7. This Is the End: As a party rages at James Franco's house, the apocalypse hits, trapping lots of celebrities (all playing themselves) inside. The ending was a little off, but overall this was the funniest goddamn movie I've seen in a long time. Bonus points for Emma Watson swearing and a hysterical cameo I refuse to spoil.

8. Gravity: Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is working on a space station when debris destroys it, sending her and fellow astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) adrift in space. With their oxygen rapidly declining, they have to try to get to another space station before it's too late. The story takes an unwelcome detour into Hokeytown at one point, but for the most part this is a great movie. It's almost unbearably tense at times, and the visuals are absolutely stunning. If you want to see this, I highly recommend catching it in the theater as I imagine it would lose a lot of impact on a smaller screen.

9. Kick-Ass 2: Dave Lizewski, the teenager who dresses up and fights crime under the name of Kick-Ass, is shocked when Mindy Macready, aka Hit Girl, hangs up her cape and starts living life as a normal high school girl. Dave finds a new group of heroes to hang out with, but when a supervillain called The Motherfucker starts wreaking havoc, it might be too much for them to handle. The first Kick-Ass movie is in my top ten of all time, but I tried to keep my expectations low because I knew there was no way this would be as good. And I was right, but it's still funny and action-packed, and Hit Girl is still freakin' awesome.

10. World War Z: After the zombie apocalypse hits, former UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) goes on a mission to determine the cause. Based on the excellent book by Max Brooks, it's seriously intense (I was white knuckling the arm of the couch during one particular scene) and highly entertaining.


MADE ME CRY (OR AT LEAST MIST UP): Looper, Life of Pi, Celeste & Jesse Forever, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Awakening, Wreck-It Ralph, End of Watch, Bully, Les Miserables, The Impossible, Pacific Rim, Gravity, Blackfish

MOST HORRIFYING SCENES: Pretty much all of Compliance; the creepy dude scoping out Mexican prostitutes in Whore's Glory; the home movies in Sinister; the nightmare fuel performance artist in Samsara; Pyramid Head's jailhouse chopping spree in Silent Hill: Revelation; the school bus bullying in Bully; when we first see the back of Naomi Watts' leg in The Impossible; the "L Is for Libido" and "X Is for XXL" segments in The ABCs of Death; the secret bedroom in The Call; the fabricant processing facility in Cloud Atlas; the extreme body modifications in American Mary; the tongue splitting in Evil Dead; the "talking head" in Trance; the achilles tendon severing in Maniac; the "clapping game" in The Conjuring; pretty much all of Blackfish

OVERRATED: Frankenweenie, The Master, Stoker, Spring Breakers  

UNDERRATED: Dredd, Cloud Atlas, The Call  

SEEN IN THE THEATER: Life of Pi, Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim, Kick-Ass 2, Gravity  

MOST CHARMING FINAL SHOT: Frances Ha

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

best of 2013: fiction

And now it's time for my favorite novels of 2013!  A few notes before I begin:


  • Not all of these were first released in 2013, but that's when I read them.
  • Aside from the first book listed, which was my definite favorite, these aren't in any particular order.
  • Oddly enough, this list includes three family members:  Stephen King, his son Joe Hill, and Kelly Braffet, who's married to King's son Owen (also an author).  Man, there's some serious talent in that family!
  • G-Vo, skip the review for #1 because I'll probably have you read it at some point.
  • And, as always, your mileage may vary.







1. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill:  Vic McQueen is a young woman with a talent for finding lost things, although nobody would believe how she does it even if she told them.  One day, she runs into Charles Manx, an old man who picks children up in his Rolls Royce Wraith (license plate: NOS4A2) and takes them to Christmasland.  Which sounds nice and all, except Manx is a type of psychic vampire who drains the children of any joy or kindness and turns them into needle-toothed killers.  Vic manages to escape, but many years later, when Manx takes her son, she taps into the talent she's neglected for years to bring Wayne back.  Of course, Manx and his assistant, the Gas Mask Man, aren't going to make it easy for her.

As I mentioned, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King, a fact he tried to hide for years in hopes of being judged on his own merits.  I only bring it up here because if this book had been published anonymously, I would have sworn it was Stephen King.  It's creepy, it's strangely touching, and it will keep you riveted until the very last page.

2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes:  Desperate for money to help out her family, Louisa Clark takes a job as a companion for Will Traynor, a bitter quadriplegic.  I don't want to say anything else because I would hate to spoil this book for you, but I highly recommend it.  Also highly recommended?  Tissues.  I don't often cry over books (which is weird, since I cry at the drop of a freakin' hat), but this one really got to me.

3. Fuse by Julianna Baggott:  Because this is the second installment of the Pure Trilogy, I can't give it a proper review without spoiling things from the first book.  I'll just say it's really fucking great and leave it at that.  I can't wait for Burn, which comes out in February.

4. The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly:  Private investigator Charlie Parker hears about the wreckage of a plane deep in the Maine woods.  There was a very important list inside the plane, and some very bad people with very bad intentions are looking for it.  I gotta say, not much makes me happier than a new John Connolly book, and I really enjoyed this one.  My only real complaint is that there isn't enough Angel and Louis, but there never is. 

5. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld:  Kate's living a comfortable life with her husband and two small children when her twin sister Violet makes a splash in the media by predicting an earthquake.  Kate isn't happy about Violet's claims, because for years she's been trying to hide the fact that she and Violet are legitimately psychic.  It's a great premise, the writing is superb, and although I wouldn't call it a funny book, there were a couple of scenes/lines that made me laugh loud and hard. 

6. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King:  Following the events of The Shining, Dan Torrance is scarred by his father's violence and desperately in thrall to an alcohol addiction.  With the help of AA, he manages to get sober and begins working at a hospice where his psychic gift enables him to console terminally ill patients at the time of their deaths, earning him the nickname of Doctor Sleep.  But when Dan receives a mental plea for help from a young girl, he finally has to face his inner demons...and a few real ones as well.

To be honest, this book runs out of steam (no pun intended, not that you'll get the pun unless you've read it) a bit near the end, but overall, it was really good.  The Shining is one of the scariest books I've ever read (and the movie is THE scariest movie I've ever seen, never mind that Stephen King hates it), so I welcomed the opportunity to spend more time with its young protagonist.

7. Poppet by Mo Hayder:  A rash of self-harm incidents rock a British psychiatric hospital.  The inmates, when questioned by staff, blame a mysterious creature they call The Maude.  A dedicated staff nurse calls Detective Jack Caffrey to investigate, and nobody is prepared for what they find.  Typically excellent fare from one of my favorite authors.  Word of warning, though:  it spoils a few things from previous books, so if you want to dip your toe into Mo Hayder's catalog, this isn't the one to start with.

8. Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet:  Patrick Cusimano lives with his brother Mike and Mike's girlfriend Caro.  Mike has never really forgiven Patrick for calling the police on their father, who killed a little boy while driving drunk.  A goth girl named Layla takes a shine to Patrick, and all of their lives (plus that of Layla's bullied sister Verna) intersect in ways they couldn't have imagined.  A beautifully written book that I absolutely loved.

9. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan:  Violet is a young half-Chinese, half-American girl living in Shanghai in 1912.  Her mother, a celebrated madam, falls in love with a man who betrays her and sells Violet to a rival courtesan house.  Violet struggles to survive her new world, all the while wondering what happened to her mother.  This novel suffers from occasional purple prose, but I still really enjoyed it.

10. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes:  Harper is a serial killer who's obsessed with murdering "shining girls", his term for young women with great potential.  He finds a house that opens onto other time periods, which allows him to murder and then escape into another era.  But a young woman named Kirby survives his attack, and she won't stop until she brings him down.  Imagine Looper crossed with The Silence of the Lambs, and you have this beautifully creepy book.  It's really good.